Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
*This poem is dedicated to the victims of September 11 and to their survivors.
Billy Collins's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (The Names by Billy Collins )
Did you read them?
- Living, Gillian Commerford
- सानसे, Ronjoy Brahma
- The Square, Frank Avon
- Shelling Peas on Boulders Beach [for my .., Gillian Commerford
- हार्थखिया मिनिदोँ, Ronjoy Brahma
- just orientation..many can be straighten.., veeraiyah subbulakshmi
- Demented Souls (A re-submission), Valsa George
- King One - Lincoln Park Zoo, Ima Ryma
- दिनैनि सानरेबाव, Ronjoy Brahma
- The Storm Within, Erika Wingo
Poem of the Day
- 04 Tongues Made Of Glass, Shaun Shane
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
- Daffodils, William Wordsworth
- If You Forget Me, Pablo Neruda
- If, Rudyard Kipling
- Invictus, William Ernest Henley
- Hunger, Jayanta Mahapatra
- A Dream Within A Dream, Edgar Allan Poe
- The Conclusion, Sir Walter Raleigh
- All the World's a Stage, William Shakespeare
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
- Heather Burns
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972)
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
(13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990)
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)