One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago
as I waited for my eggs and toast,
I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.
Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.
Already I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude's older than Cheerios
the way they used to say.
Why that's as old as the hills,
only the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,
I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.
Billy Collins has a real knack for combining seriousness and comedy, here doing it with the seriousness of feeling old, and the silliness of comparing yourself to Cheerios. Today being my birthday, it just seemed like a natural fit.
I don't think we should take age too seriously, and I certainly don't think Collins does. For him, no wisdom is conferred with age, just a light humor and good temperament, which I think he communicates well here. The image of a "stooped and threadbare back" shows how he feels old, but then he just laughs it off with a ridiculous imagined overheard whisper, of "Why that dude's older than Cheerios!" It's funny, and if Collins made you smile and think about what you're older than, then his poem has succeeded. For instance, I'm older than MP3s, which seem a fairly normal part of the fabric of our daily lives. I can just imagine a twelve year old saying now, "You used to use cassette tapes to listen to things?" It's a funny way to think about your own age, that's for sure.