Osso Buco By Billy Collins

Share via

I love the sound of the bone against the plate

and the fortress-like look of it

lying before me in a moat of risotto,

the meat soft as the leg of an angel

who has lived a purely airborne existence.

And best of all, the secret marrow,

the invaded privacy of the animal

prized out with a knife and wallowed down

with cold, exhilarating wine.

I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,

a citizen tilted back on his chair,

a creature with a full stomach--

something you don’t hear much about in poetry,

that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.

You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,

small birds searching for berries in winter.

But tonight, the lion of contentment

has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,

and I can only close my eyes and listen

to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance

and the sound of my wife’s laughter

on the telephone in the next room,

the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,

who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.

She who talks to her faraway friend

while I linger here at the table

with a hot, companionable cup of tea,

feeling like one of the friendly natives,

a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.

Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside

on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent

carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;

and elsewhere people of all nations stare

at one another across a long, empty table.

But here, the candles give off their warm glow,

the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,

the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.

Only now it plays on the blue plates,

the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.

In a while, one of us will go up to bed

and the other will follow.

Then we will slip below the surface of the night

into miles of water, drifting down and down

to the dark, soundless bottom

until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,

below the shale and layered rock,

beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,

into the broken bones of the earth itself,

into the marrow of the only place we know.

From “The Art of Drowning” by Billy Collins (University of Pittsburgh Press: 95 pp., $12.95 paper)