A beautiful poem: “Catholicism” by my hero, Billy Collins

I have saved this poem from the 01/14/2013 issue of The New Yorker to share with all of you. Through Mr. Collins’ verse, one can see how something so simple, lovely, and powerful as Nature can make us take stock of our spiritual selves…Enjoy!


There’s a possum who appears here at odd times,
often walking up the path to the house
in the middle of the day like a little ghost
with a long tail and a blank expression on his face.

He likes to slip behind the woodpile
but sometimes he gets so close to the window
where I am standing with a glass in my hand
that I start to review my sins, systematically

going from one commandment to the next.
What is it about him that causes me
to begin an examination of conscience,
calling to my mind my failings in this time of reflection?

It could just be the twitching of the tail
and that white face, but his slow priestly pace
also makes a contribution, as do the tiny paws,
more like hands, really, with opposable thumbs

able to carry a nut or dig a hole in the earth
or lift a chalice above his head
or even deliver a document,
I am thinking as he nears the back door,

not merely a subpoena but an order
of excommunication with my name and a date
written in fine Italian ink
and signed with a flourish of the papal sash.

Billy Collins

One of my favorite things about this piece is the (surprise) ending. It leaves us with the question: why would he be receiving an excommunication letter? But great art should always make us ask questions, shouldn’t it?




6 thoughts on “A beautiful poem: “Catholicism” by my hero, Billy Collins

  1. Excommunicated by a possum. Now that’s humility. I’ve noticed a tone that while it is classic Billy Collins, is a bit more, I don’t know, humbled? Yet with a touch of ironic bitterness maybe? All of this since his divorce a while back. Btu maybe I’m just reading that into it. There was after all, the poem “Weighing the Dog,” and that came well before I think. We all have our private sins, or failings, depending on how you define that. So the lovely thing is how this ambiguous little piece somehow humorously and seriously finds a way to resonate with us.

    And by the way, Billy is a hero of mine too. I think you’ve inspired me to read a recording of this poem. Having missed the New Yorker issue, this was my first experience with it. Thank you!


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