Baby Listening (Billy Collins)

According to the guest information directory, 
baby listening is a service offered by this seaside hotel.

Baby listening--not a baby who happens to be listening,
as I thought when I first checked in.

Leave the receiver off the hook,
the directory advises,
and your infant can be monitored by the staff,

though the staff, the entry continues,
cannot be held responsible for the well-being
of the baby in question .

Fair enough, someone to listen to the baby.

But the phrase did suggest a baby who is listening,
lying there in the room next to mine
listening to my pen scratching against the page,

or a more advanced baby who has crawled
down the hallway of the hotel
and is pressing its tiny, curious ear against my door.

Lucky for some of us,
poetry is a place where both are true at once,
where meaning only one thing at a time spells
    malfunction.

Poetry wants to have the baby who is listening at my
    door
as well as the baby who is being listened to,
quietly breathing by the nearby telephone.

And it also wants the baby
who is making sounds of distress
into the curved receiver lying in the crib

while the girl at reception has just stepped out
to have a smoke with her boyfriend
in the dark by the great sway and wash of the North
    Sea.

Poetry wants that baby, too,
even a little more than it wants the others.

 

© Billy Collins