The Unfortunate Traveler by Billy Collins | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
Billy Collins is a two-time poet laureate of the United States and Smithsonian's poetry consultant. (Ryan R. Reed)

The Unfortunate Traveler by Billy Collins

Smithsonian's poetry consultant writes a poem specially for the photography issue

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Because I was off to France, I packed
my camera along with my shaving kit,
some colorful boxer shorts, and a sweater with a zipper,

but every time I tried to take a picture
of a bridge, a famous plaza,
or the bronze equestrian statue of a general,

there was a woman standing in front of me
taking a picture of the very same thing,
or the odd pedestrian blocked my view,

someone or something always getting between me
and the flying buttress, the river boat,
a bright café awning, an unexpected pillar.

So into the little door of the lens
came not the kiosk or the altarpiece.
No fresco or baptistry slipped by the quick shutter.

Instead, my memories of that glorious summer
of my youth are awakened now,
like an ember fanned into brightness,

by a shoulder, the back of a raincoat,
a wide hat or towering hairdo—
lost time miraculously recovered

by the buttons on a gendarme’s coat
and my favorite,
the palm of that vigilant guard at the Louvre.

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