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(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

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Child Development

As sure as prehistoric fish grew legs
and sauntered off the beaches into forests
working up some irregular verbs for their
first conversation, so three-year-old children
enter the phase of name-calling.

Every day a new one arrives and is added
to the repertoire. You Dumb Goopyhead,
You Big Sewerface, You Poop-on-the-Floor
(a kind of Navaho ring to that one)
they yell from knee level, their little mugs
flushed with challenge.
Nothing Samuel Johnson would bother tossing out
in a pub, but then the toddlers are not trying
to devastate some fatuous Enlightenment hack.

They are just tormenting their fellow squirts
or going after the attention of the giants
way up there with their cocktails and bad breath
talking baritone nonsense to other giants,
waiting to call them names after thanking
them for the lovely party and hearing the door close.

The mature save their hothead invective
for things: an errant hammer, tire chains,
or receding trains missed by seconds,
though they know in their adult hearts,
even as they threaten to banish Timmy to bed
for his appalling behavior,
that their bosses are Big Fatty Stupids,
their wives are Dopey Dopeheads
and that they themselves are Mr. Sillypants.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003


Read poems about / on: fish, children, child, beach, fishing, thanks, work

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Comments about this poem (I Go Back To The House For A Book by Billy Collins )

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  • Darkangel Flyfree (11/6/2011 9:36:00 PM)

    this poem is one of those precious poems ever to every living soul if ever understand the poems words and real intention! ! ! !

    12 person liked.
    7 person did not like.
  • Behroz Rabady (7/16/2009 10:22:00 PM)

    Hey I thoroughly enjoyed it......it was hilarious! ! ! and sooooooo true.

  • Trevor Boley (4/23/2008 3:32:00 PM)

    Billy Collins is a degenerate Robert Frost. A man who slaps his knee at the end of the poem and points at the crowd like he recreated poetry.

  • Jenny Hijioka (11/13/2006 12:21:00 PM)

    This poem is cute... I know how little kids name call and I can picture a lot of little kids saying these things. I work with kids 5 1/2 months- 15 years old at a health club daycare.

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