John Ashbery, p.3


When more and more people come to you, you know
what they are saying, and you know how to deal with them.
Many were the whiskers that applied that day,
and many the salvage operations bent on rejecting them,
if you have some ointment it would be good to use it
now. Otherwise the opportunity may never again present itself.
I know you mean well, Hopeful murmured. Talkative was
starting to tell one of his stories again, and smiling.
Hopeful silently abetted it. He knew the old boy was feeling his oats,
which was fine with him, as he too was feeling good. Talkative, you old so-
and-so, he volunteered. Then his father-in-law blew up. The Overall Boys,
fishing poles in hand,
charged into nether regions.
Susie never thought she’d see the day when so much surplus was at stake,
and she alone, outdoors, waiting for the postman’s red bicycle
for what seemed like ages. He explained that it was a routine assassination,
that that was what had delayed him. Crestfallen, Susie hardly dared look up
into the eyes of her man, a breeze was blowing, it was snowing. The droplets
made diagonal streaks in the air
where pterodactyls had been. It was time for an exodus of sorts;
Paul picked up the legend
where it had been broken off: “No
blame accrues to those who were left behind, unless, haply, they were climbing
the wall to get a better view of the stars, in which case the next-to-last
must pay a tribute, and so on. It can be anything, old money,
a calico scarf, whatever has soiled the hand of the donor by staying
to wear out its welcome. O in time it will shrivel.
What is it to imagine something you had forgotten once, is it
inventing, or more of a restoration from ancient mounds that were probably there?
You that can tell all, tell this.”

At first Talkative was reluctant to speak, then the words fell
like spring rain from his lips, all was as it had been before,
with no two dancers in step, and a bright, really bright light exploded
above the barn. A horse wanders away
and is abruptly inducted into the carousel,
eyes flying, mane askew. There is no end to the dance,
even death pales in comparison, and at the same time we are forced to
take into account the likelihood of the moment’s behaving badly, the
eventual cost
to our side in terms of dignity, compromised integrity. Twelve princesses
stepped ashore, no one knew them, they too seemed not to know where
they were.
“In what region…” one began timidly, then the whole flock took off
like a shout, leaving the beleaguered ground to fend for itself.
“There were picture books at that time,
and dreams woven in and out of them. But one was not to notice,
only to go on behaving. And at the end, when everything was added up,
we probably owed them a penny. It’s enough to make you weep.
But skies are gilded and armored, we shall put a brave face

“On it for a time, then school will be over, and sublime rest
flow from the uncorked flask like a prodigious perfume,
or sleep, a potent but dangerous brew,
a new assignment. Then we can get out of hock,
redeem Daddy’s dear old coupons.” He broke off, not wanting to bestir
the others, who had in fact ceased to hear, so monotonous
was the noise of his voice, like rain that flails the spears of alfalfa
in Maytime, to reap a tiny investment.
So we faced the new day,
like a pilgrim who sees the end of his journey deferred forever.
Who could predict where we would be led, to what
extremes of aloneness? Yet the horizon is civil.

A struggle ensued and the driver fell out of the vehicle.
And what did the old lady do then?
“She gave them some broth, without any bread, and... and...”

All are like soup.

So if it pleases you to come
out we all await thy pleasure, Stuart Hofnagel.
Who was with Young Topless? It seemed then an abyss was forming,
a new set of lagoons. More than look past it
one cannot, for more
that that is denied us.
So have I heard it said in old kingdoms, it said.
Larkspur towering over miniature turrets. The bandoleer was shot to hell.

The spa looked closed. So,
if you are in the market for a steeple, I commend this one
rigorously. It was not given to human divination to exhume it
like the comet, but to pause briefly, the blind
man’s praise will cook itself. A giant paw
over the moon. Melons bloomed in corners. Shrimp blew away
to be fecund elsewhere, next year.
In time it will be your caesura too, but we mustn’t
think of that. We caregivers especially. We must forget,
while others only live, peer into circles of living embroidery. The geese
will jump for you again, anon. Then it’s no business. They closed
the place, the food court, they all
have gone away, it’s restless, and mighty, as an ark
to the storm, yet the letter
of the law is obeyed, and sometimes the spirit
In forgotten tales of the seekers—O who were they?
Mary Ann, and Jimmy—no, but who were they?
Who have as their mantles on the snow
and we shall never reach land
before dark, yet who knows what advises them,
discreet in the mayhem? And then it’s bright in the defining pallor of their day.
Does this clinch anything? We were cautioned once, told not to venture out—
yet I’d offer this much, this leaf, to thee.
Somewhere darkness churns and answers are riveting,
taking on a fresh look, a twist. A carousel is burning.
The wide avenue smiles.