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Billy Collins is a two-time poet laureate of the United States. (Ryan R. Reed)

Billy Collins’ “The Deep”

A new poem from the former poet laureate of the United States

Here on this map of the oceans everything is reversed—
the land blank except for the names of the continents
whereas the watery parts, colored blue,
feature topography and even place names

like the Bermuda Rise, which sounds harmless enough
as does the Cocos Ridge, but how about exploring
The Guafo Fracture Zone when you're all alone?
And from the many plateaus and seamounts—

the Falkland, the Manning, the Azores—
all you could see is water and if you're lucky
a big fish swallowing a school of smaller ones
through the bars of your deep-sea diver's helmet.

And talk about depth: at 4,000 feet below the surface,
where you love to float on your back all summer,
we enter the Midnight Zone where the monkfish
quietly says his prayers in order to attract fresh prey,

and drop another couple of miles and you
have reached The Abyss where the sea cucumber
is said to undulate minding its own business
unless it's deceiving an attacker with its luminescence

before disappearing into the blackness.
What attacker, I can hear you asking,
would be down there messing with the sea cucumber?
And that is exactly why I crumpled the map into a ball

and arced it into a metal wastebasket
before heading out to walk along a sunny trail
in the thin, high-desert air, accompanied
by juniper trees, wildflowers, and that gorgeous hawk.

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