One of my favorite poets is former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He is witty and also so accessible. Today is his birthday. Collins was born in New York City in 1941. Of poets, he once remarked, “While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in the window pane.”

During the season of Lent we metaphorically spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, unprotected by normal nourishment, dependent on angels to look after us when we reach the point where we can no longer look after ourselves.  Here’s a taste of Collins’ theological imagination, below.

Questions About Angels

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

Billy Collins


What is your favorite Billy Collins poem?


  1. Melissa Wilson March 22, 2023 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    On Turning Ten:
    “It seems only yesterday I used to believe
    there was nothing under my skin but light.
    If you cut me I could shine.
    But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life
    I skin my knees. I bleed.

  2. Betty Lou Stull March 22, 2023 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    I like Billy Collins too, especially his poems about poetry. Two examples are “Introduction to Poetry
    (my favorite), and “American Sonnet”.

  3. beth malchus stafa March 23, 2023 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Another reason I don’t keep guns in the house.

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