by Steve Krout
July 3, 2020
Hippos on Holiday
is not really the title of a movie
but if it was I would be sure to see it.
I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theater.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.
I would be both in my seat
and in the water playing with the hippos,
which is the way it is
with a truly great movie.
Only a mean-spirited reviewer
would ask on holiday from what?
There’s a misconception at times that poets have to be dark and brooding. Pick up any collection of poems by Billy Collins and bear witness to a poet that can tackle serious topics with humor. He’s a master of wit and wisdom. His poetry is filled with observation and imagination. In Hippos, his imagination is front and center as he expresses appreciation for the enormous hippopotami and for relaxation. As we live through a global pandemic and upheaval in the United States, poems like this one serve as a good reminder for us to look for the good, the true, and the beautiful in life.
Once, when I was sitting in our chapel, I began to meditate on the scripture that spoke of Jesus sitting and eating with sinners. In a few days I was going to be giving a devotion on this passage. I closed my eyes and began to imagine myself eating with Jesus at one of our picnic tables. Our friendly conversation was filled with joy and humor. I was so amused by all this that I began to laugh uncontrollably. Here I was, surrounded by people praying in silence, causing a disturbance. The more I tried to control the laughter the worse it got. I then excused myself from the chapel for a few moments in hopes that I would be able to compose myself. After a minute or two, I returned to my seat and proceeded to laugh even harder than before. Maybe it bewildered others, but it drew me closer to Christ.
Whether our imaginations lead us to playing in water with hippos or laughing with Jesus, let us be reminded of how beautiful it is to be human and to have such experiences, holy gifts from God.
“Hippos on Holiday” appears in Ballistics (2008)
The New York Times has called Billy Collins (born 1941) “The most popular poet in America.” His writing is often witty, observational, and intelligent. Collins was appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is currently a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. His notable works include Picnic, Lightning, The Art of Drowning, and Nine Horses.
Read the Introduction to Koinonia’s Summer Poetry Series