I usually draw a blank whenever anyone asks me where I get my inspiration. But here, I find myself on safe ground. This poem came directly from the “duck/rabbit” drawing by Wittgenstein, the one he used to illustrate for his philosophy students the nature of puns and conundrums, where only one of two aspects can be apprehended at a time. You can see the duck, or you can see the rabbit, but not both simultaneously. My riff on the drawing turned out to be a sonnet, but not the love kind. Quite the opposite.
The lamb may lie down with the lion,
But they will never be as close as this pair
Who share the very lines
Of their existence, whose overlapping is their raison d’être.
How strange and symbolic the binds
That make one disappear
Whenever the other is spied.
Throw the duck a stare,
And the rabbit hops down his hole.
Give the rabbit the eye,
And the duck waddles off the folio.
Say, these could be our mascots, you and I —
I could look at you forever
And never see the two of us together.
Billy Collins is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate (2001–03) and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “Duck/Rabbit” originally appeared in Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins © 1998. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.