The Straightener

by Billy Collins

Even as a boy I was a straightener.
On a long table near my window
I kept a lantern, a spyglass, and my tomahawk.

Never tomahawk, lantern, and spyglass.
Always lantern, spyglass, tomahawk.

You could never tell when you would need them,
but that was the order you would need them in.

On my desk: pencils at attention in a cup,
foreign coins stacked by size,

a photograph of my parents facing me,
and under the blotter with its leather corners,
a note from a girl I was fond of.

These days, it's the cans of soup in the pantry—
no, not alphabetical, it's not like that—
just stacked in a pyramid beside
the white candles lying in rows like logs of wax.

And if I can avoid phoning my talkative aunt
on her eighty-something birthday,
or doing my taxes

I will measure with a ruler the space
between the comb and the brush on the dresser,
the distance between shakers of salt and pepper.

And I will devote as much time as it takes
to line up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair, in chronological order

or according to my degree of affection for them
if I can put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now must do.


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