To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl
From his new collection, Aimless Love
“Do you realize that if you had started building the Parthenon
on the day you were born,
you would be all done in only one more year?
Of course, you couldn’t have done that all alone.
So never mind; you’re fine just being yourself.
You’re loved for just being you.
But did you know that at your age
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory
and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room
— no wait, I mean he had invented the calculator?
Of course, there will be time for all that later in your life,
after you come out of your room and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.
For some reason I keep remembering that
Lady Jane Grey was queen of England when she was only 15.
But then she was beheaded,
so never mind her as a role model.
A few centuries later, when he was your age,
Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,
but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies, four operas and two complete masses as a youngster.
But of course, that was in Austria at the height of Romantic lyricism,
not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.
Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you —
playing with your food and staring into space.
By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,
but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.”
For a video of Billy reading this poem with Stephen Colbert, click here