Simple Arithmetic

I spend a little time every day
on a gray wooden dock
on the edge of a wide lake, thinly curtained by reeds.

And if there is nothing on my mind
but the motion of the wavelets
and the high shape-shifting of clouds,

I look out at the whole picture
and divide the scene into what was here
five hundred years ago and what was not.

Then I subtract all that was not here
and multiply everything that was by ten,
so when my calculations are complete,

all that remains is water and sky,
the dry sound of wind in the reeds,
and the sight of an unflappable heron on the shore.

All the houses are gone, and the boats
as well as the hedges and the walls,
the curving brick paths, and the distant siren.

The plane crossing the sky is no more
and the same goes for the swimming pools,
the furniture and the pastel umbrellas on the decks,

And the binoculars around my neck are also gone,
and so is the little painted dock itself–
according to my figuring–

and gone are my notebook and my pencil
and there I go, too,
erased by my own eraser and blown like shavings off the page.

~Billy Collins