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Chinese Food, My Favorite

Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate between 2001 and 2003, makes an appearance in the July-August 2007 Issue of Poetry with “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant.” Ashamedly, I admit I have never previously read any of Billy Collins’ earlier work. However, anyone who knows me has seen my obsession with Chinese food, Crab Rangoon in particular.

This poem, however, does not delve into the nuances of appetizers or of entrees like Moo Goo Gai Pan. At the beginning of the poem, the reader is told the poet had thought about writing a poem about an old man in a Chinese restaurant sitting alone at a table, but he did not write the poem when he was younger. However, now that he has aged, he opted to write the poem. It begs the question how different would the poem have been had it been written when he was younger, rather than when he was older.

Collins expresses his opinion on the matter: “I would have gotten it all wrong/ thinking: the poor bastard, not a friend in the world/and with only a book for a companion./”

Collins takes his watercolor brush and paints the scene, from the big windows filling with light to the supple hair of the waitress. From the lines in the first stanza it would seem Collins thought he would have had a more somber view of the lone man in the Chinese restaurant.