John Ashbery, p.2


Out in Michigan, or was it Minnesota, though, time had stopped
to see what it could see, which wasn’t much. A recent hooligan scare had
blighted the landscape,
lowering the temperature by several degrees. “Having
to pee relentlessly ruins my crinoline,
because it comes only ecstatically.”
But the wounded cow knew otherwise.
She was at least sixty,
had many skins covering her own, regal one. So then they all cry,
at sea. The lawnmower is emitting sparks again,
one doesn’t know how many, or how much faster it will have to go
to meet us at the Denizens’ by six o’clock. We’d have been better
off letting the prisoners stage their own war. Now I don’t know
so much, and with Aunt Jennie at my side we could release
a few more bombs and not know it.
Everywhere in the tangled schist
someone was living, it seemed to say, this is my doing;
whoever shall come afterward is a delusion. And I went round
the corner to say, Well it sure looks like an improvement—hey,
why don’t you tie your shoes, and then your bonnet will be picture-perfect?

No, only getting away
has any value to her. A stone’s throw is better than a mile
since one will have to be up again much later, and this way
saves time. How often did you let your mother say,
how did you get your Sundays packed away? And yet it’s always treasonable
to be in the middle. H’m, there are objections to that,
just as I thought. This might help. Yes. But the color
of this paint is too fabulous, I’d asked for something fragmented
like sea-spray. In that case we cannot be of service to you. Farewell.

Now I had walked the terrible byways for what seemed like too long.
Now another was following, insensately.
Would there be foodstuffs on the steps? How did that ladder point into
“Shuffle, you miser!” Just so, Shuffle said,
I don’t want to be around when the gang erupts
into centuries of inviolate privilege, and cisterns tumble down
the side of the slope, and all is gone more or less naturally to hell.
To which Dimples replied, Why not? Why not just give yourself, one time,
to the floods of human resources that are our day?
Because I don’t want to live at an angle to the blokes who micromanage
our territory, that’s all. Oh, who do you mean? Why, the red-trimmed zebras,
shuffle said, that people thinks is the cutest damn things in town
until the victory bonfire on the square, and then there’s more racing
and chasing than you can shake a banjo-string at,
and it’ll have muddled you over by the time the war has crested.

He sat, eating a cheese sandwich, wondering if it would be his last,
fiddled and sank away.
And as far as the wires
could stretch, into the inevitable jerk-kingdom, the little girl
crawled on her hands and feet. That was no jack-in-the-box
back there, that was the real thing.

Yes, Stuart Hofnagel, they came to you, they’d expected big things
of you back in Arkadelphia, and now you were a soured loner like anybody.
Old town, you seem to remember otherwise.
That was you backing into love, wasn’t it? So we all came and were glad that day.
That was all a fine day for us. Happiness, that we loved you so much;
phony energy, because we were happy.
Yet the town held back, rinsing her skirts
in the dour brook that fled the sawmill, just before four o’clock.
None of us slaves knew any different, having been nursed into solitude the
night before last.
Certainly, if someone knocks on the open door
we will be pleasant, and look after the stranger just as if he were one of our own.
That’s the way we were made. We can’t help it. Conversely,
if a friend obtrudes his thinking into this plan of ours,
we shall deny all knowledge of him. It happens this way in the wilderness.
Plus the pot is full of old oddments. The rhubarb stains on Peggy’s frock
almost—but not quite—match its rickrack trim.
That’s where the human aspect comes in.
Some were born to play with, to think constantly about it, with a nod,
not much more, to the future and what its executives might have in store.
We aren’t easily intimidated.
And yet we are always frightened,
frightened that this will come to pass
and we all unable to do anything about it, in case it ever does.
So we appeal to you, sun, on this broad day.
You were ever a helpmate in times of great churning, and fatigue.
You make us forget how serious we are
and we dance in the lightning of your rhythm like demented souls
on a hospital spree. If only,
when the horse crawls up your back, you had known to make more of it.
But the climate is military, and yet one can’t see too far ahead.
Better a storehouse of pearls than this battered shoehorn
of wood, yet it can cause everything to take place and change for you.