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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poem of the Week: Osso Bucco

As it is the week of Christmas, I wanted to post a poem that had to do with kith and kin and hearthfire and all that stuff. My mind immediately went to Billy Collins as he is king of quaint -- but what poem? He actually has a poem that deals with Christmas ("Christmas Sparrow" which you can find here: but it is not all that good. So I decided on "Osso Bucco," one of his more famous works and one that I absolutely adore. Those who know Billy Collins know that he is extremely accessible and wonderfully nostalgic, though I personally do not feel like he gets enough credit for his complexity of composition. In "Osso Bucco," for example, Collins does a marvelous job vacillating between the cultured ("the candles give off their warm glow, / the same light that Shakespeare and Izzac Walton wrote by") and the feral ("a creature with full stomach"). Add the this that the poem contains one of my favorite images when Collins describes the satisfaction of a full stomach as "the lion of contentment / [having] placed a warm heavy paw on my stomach," and this poem is a winner. If you don't want Osso Bucco after reading this poem, you are either a vegetarian or you're not reading it right. Bon appetit!

Osso Bucco
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 swallowed 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.


  1. Thanks teacherman, this was a lovely poem.

  2. How odd...I am very hungry all of a sudden!

    Also, this was a great poem. This column makes me feel all "learned and such."

  3. This actually made me not want osso bucco. Ever.