NOR 4 #39: Bathtub Families

By Billy Collins
Featured Image: Beach at Cabasson by Henri-Edmond Cross

is not just a phrase I made up
though it would have given me pleasure
to have written those words in a notebook
then looked up at the sky wondering what they meant.

No, I saw Bathtub Families in a pharmacy
on the label of a clear plastic package
containing one cow and four calves,
a little family of animals meant to float in your tub.

I hesitated to buy it because I knew
I would then want the entire series of Bathtub Families
which would leave no room in the tub
for the turtles, the pigs, the seals, the giraffes, and me.

It’s enough just to have the words,
which alone make me even more grateful
that I was born in America
and English is my mother tongue.

I was lucky, too, that I waited
for the pharmacist to fill my prescription,
otherwise I might not have wandered
down the aisle with the Bathtub Families.

I think what I am really saying is that language
is better than reality, so it doesn’t have
to be bath-time for you to enjoy
all the Bathtub Families as they float in the air around your head.


BILLY COLLINS’S LATEST COLLECTION IS WHALE DAY (RANDOM HOUSE, 2020). HE IS A MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS.

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