The Names Poem by Billy Collins

The Names

Rating: 4.8

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.

John Cabrera 25 January 2012

nice poem. it touched my heart.

47 19 Reply
Joseph Pedulla 15 December 2017

You were only touched when you read the dedication, for the poem by itself makes no sense at all. So the poem cannot touch anyone. Why can't he work the event into the poem? All we get is pretty little pictures, like doilies and Precious Moments figurines in an old lady's China cabinet. Sugar and saccharine.

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Osama Bin Laden 26 February 2018

your a because i blowed up your country

10 37 Reply
Joseph Pedulla 15 December 2017

Why so many odd images? Names in the small tracks of birds! What? No, Billy. Try this: I will seek Aaron and find out how he took his coffee and what side of the bed he slept on. Did he throw righty? And if I do this from A to Z, I will drag my finiteness home, sweating and bedraggled, certain for the first time in my life that I am not God. Go big, Billy, or don't go at all!

4 26 Reply
Tommy 15 July 2018

I disagree. You're a dumbass. Let's agree to disagree because I'm right and you're wrong. Saitama will become Evil in order to create a hero strong enough to give him a challenge and ultimately defeat him which will make him happy just after he fubuki and tatsumaki in a threesome. And gives Genos sloppy seconds oh wait Genos has no.

8 18 Reply
Namless 14 September 2022

Great poem, gave me the feels.

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hi 13 September 2021


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Claudia 13 July 2021

I have 5 of your books, and I love them all.

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jamarcus 08 September 2020

I think this is a really nice poem

1 0 Reply
Audrey 01 May 2020

I reallllllllly liked your poem

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