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This poem is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

Fifteen Poems John Ashbery

O Knave

Don’t forget to write!
Hopefully it’s coming to pass even as we speak,
by which I intend variorum wish lists padded
with reeds and days, people like your mother
or others unlike your mother who have nothing
in common with you except to be like you
whom they never know. How rich with
possibilities this lakeside afternoon is!
Scissors decorating the walls’ gules or argent,
and some distance away, Hessian soldier moulds
or firedogs, queering the visitor,
who can stand no more, appetites maxed out.
I was going to say drop me off further
but you already knew
this was what we both wanted.
I’ll close saying you’ll meet me in your dreams.
Be polite and not too aggressive
and not a little inquisitive, boring steed.

Perplexing Ways

Comb it wet through these otherwise days.
‘Difficult’ scenes emerge. What was so bad about perjury?
Think back to how it teased us.
We were raised alive for the behest of others.
Children unwind us, grown-ups cobble us
into their frescoes. Night is seen as becoming.
We love you! This from the heralds.

Alas it isn’t as easy once again.
The old bike just lies there.
I shall have to do something…
In the meantime living resolves itself
into a dance. A cinema. More light.


I remember I remember
the word ‘shovel’.
A very young person
- their child - called.
Was it right to remember
all the time? I am
sailing like a sheet in a play.
Others are there.
A dish of scrambled eggs
calls out of a dream.
We intuit the sill as ‘alarm’.
Nuthatches covet the sky’s


What kind of a nuthouse is this
Hansel wondered. Early, evidently,
yet what crumbs had led us to this door,
and where, or why, are nothing to me now.
Seldom do they diminish. Another time
every year who creeps and scrambles may read
if not divine. What makes everything today
so sexy, so friendly? It was a disaster in history,
one fine day. Anyway it was at long last,

no one clubbable came to the door.
An existence like a sea urchin’s
is what I inherited. Avast. And in the twinkling
some of it belongs to others, and we love them
as herring love the sea. You tell them.
Make yourselves at home the witch said,
I’ll only be a minute. The words ‘I live,
I fought, form like marbles in the mouth.

The regional farm district is shut.
It’s all a bit orthodox, yet one says, so long,
it’s a period. Like waiting for a cold to break.
Was it a dream?

More of What Happened

The mild stars shone for us,
moving toward the decorative fire escape,
seeking a tower to escape the sun
above the roiling city.

Surely it was for you and me.
The unexpectedness of our music
flooded us early. There were two ways about it.
Man abandoned by his hopes drums
a little life into the countryside.
Then the periods collapse.

From our rising up to our going down
everybody was nice. Favours overwhelmed us
for a little while. Days subsided as
patient crowds looked on. No space here
for losers, or even what passes as successful
in flyover states. In Fort Wayne rubber
cement was growing tacky, silhouettes criticised
their want of substance. Aida and Don José,
thoughtful along the parapet,
communicate. Do you chew gum?
I suppose so.
Do you believe in long engagements?

It’ll be better.
A better day.

Yes and when all dreams come up
for renewal, wiser to seek the unknown
in the interior at its last address.
Familiarity like that is forged over decades
separating the silents from the talkies,
the savannah from the brush.
One was encouraged into intimacy. Ideas
started that way, like froth at first.
Then we flirted with something downhill.

World’s Largest Glass of Water

Bunny and Squirrel couldn’t believe
who it was they came after! No sun
at the orphanage, no proctors
in the veiled classroom. It wasn’t
going to be like this at first. Somebody
must have flicked the wrong switch.

Now it was even later after that.
Trees in bloom ten years ago
added to the commotion. Along the roads
leading out of town, old people
bobbed and turned, as though stuck
in wet cement. Loafers turned up
on cue. Interestingly there was little
to comment on, as though the big newspaper
had blown through, scouring everything
in its dull path. I don’t want to wait
for this month to come, Squirrel said.
The fountain is an underwater phoenix.

The harpsichord went all adventurous
just as I was taking in the laundry.
We’d been promised extra pinnacles
since April, but this is tragic.
I know I only came to be here a second,
then leave to send you more postcards
and letters. Run along, like a good thing.
Powder the axles, wish the dog happy birthday.
There’s no time like a fuzzy present, she shared.

Deep Surprise

‘Le presbytère n’a rien perdu de son charme ni le jardin de son éclat.’ - Gaston Leroux, Le mystère de la chambre jaune

The beautiful lovers went away,
your eyewitnesses in the dance.

What is it you’re starting to remember?
‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’,

and I, in all weather, sought God’s approval.
He ‘so loved’ the earth that even I was stunned

for a few moments. And then, ‘Improve’.
We were out for a fortnight and returned

to find the house, not ours, or different
in some inexplicable way. There’s always

an indignant houseguest ghosting into them:
‘Is that what they teach you in “elementary” school?’

In my McGuffey’s it says flower muscle
is believed to help. Seriously,

it’s a definition and so much else. Or sleeping.
Parents agree. You’ll love it big when you find out.

Is It Just Me Or

Ow. In fact ouch.
I was just bothering over
these torpid interpretations you see
when, blessed by grass, I understood the signs
in the round. I felt dated,
much as my contemporaries did.
The clouds noticed.

To be off and running
the distance of a hilltop from old frame
buildings without whose lens no one
seems to understand. Nor can they
move inside when the season decrees sheen:
black yet morbid at the sunflower’s
peaked centre. Yes you know I
was saying that too. Blank testicles.

Sometimes if we listen without noticing
at the packed city’s centre other oblongs allude
to what the hotel dissipates.
There were onions at the triangular coated
basin at the centre of all aligning
and shy tempests attuned to cottage
meanderings - I mean, save me,
I might not have candle power
to unstring meritable hoops. I say,
have we no thin power rotting
in English kitchens for the duke’s children
to inherit like insecure boats
too distant from the onyx horizon?

The Stumming

I said I hadn’t said it, he stressed.
What about poisonous sea snakes?
I know one. I bet you do. You
can be cute for only so long.
Then it’s back to basics, or in
my case forensics. What doesn’t
dapple you makes you strong.
Surely he’d have liked to know about that,
and where the insects go
when they sleep. As in a Telemann arpeggio,
one tooth very much resembles another tooth.

What one rear door does
is love’s lament, her old sweet song
come on us brash in the early days,
tripping over a root but checking in
with the adorable lodgers. I felt it
in my attic. Combed the brush for suitable
attitudes and tints until it felt no more
no less than trough adjustment
at corners not meant to be revived.
Or ask Leporello. It’s ashes and mesh.

No Rest for the Weary

In an hour, I’ll be late.
Don’t let it worry you - it
won’t come near, and I’ll
be out. You were excited
about that. Weren’t you?
I’ll have the silence of the mind -
washes over and it doesn’t
pollute the dish?

We became fixtures,
appanages of the any, starting out
as though that were everything.
Then the fixtures idea
blows you off, it’s too late
to stir, really?
You and brother among the acorns?
If so, how’s this?
Would it rhyme after the legions pulled
in their horns, like it was supposed
to at some point create a canal
to itself ? But I was unrestless,
unwilling to grant its spiky nature
to the effable and so consolidate
this most mundane of coups.
The coming on is whatever
it’s about. Limbo was nice
after a while. One got on with
everybody, ‘paying guests’,
the viewer’s idea
being of some, a going, concern.
At night there is popcorn
and concessions - the other kind -
and we’re depressed
but involved as who could be
in that other - narrow - era,
the battle-drenched on a par
with the only newly subversive.
Insist we try again;
there was some sense in it
but only late. Later was too late.

The Person of Whom You Speak

was in this room recently.
Her husband later, a tall sprinkly man,
heavier than we like to see, caught up.
Really why is there shouting,

going every place, in some time?
That’s for you to know and me to find out,
possibly. Why all the glad rags?

At times to a great time
someone will shrug and beaters
fan out. There is a note of irony
in their affection that comes round,
always, like clockwork,
yet the unexpected.

They intend to go from there to here.
They say, I am righteous. They are dreaming.

We didn’t plan for the event but it’s nice,
nice as always, though surprise is never what
it seems. Now they’re walking back, talking,
grinning. Weather is in cahoots.

Work, win, suffer some more.

Partial Clearing

Yesterday was the worst.
You know what I also intuit
is having not enough gravitas
to bring the storm to its
self-desired conclusion. I mean the way
rarebit fiends stumble on truths
in the disordered dreaming of multitudes:
something we can’t and won’t
turn to our account - ‘vested’

You know, this is just
where you don’t care: the average
walk of citizen A to the corner
of a square where all gets lost in
mumblety-peg. Where the pickpockets get by,
but only just. And sand freezes in the gutters.

Looking out the window reveals
that the weather is or isn’t about to change.
Forelocks will be tugged in a fortnight
and other appraisers add to the already vehement
heap of misunderstood and eagerly approved evaluations:
a coming out into spring after a winter of
carefully worded captions. A love like self-love
upgraded to ‘pastoral’. Yes, easy does it,
always. What you see will be used against you.

Surprising Announcement

Great to see you on Friday! The whole damn dynasty. And we got it.

You’re telling me.

Not knowing what it is you have in mind
didn’t mean anything,
drove all the others off a cliff into the sun.
Baked rebellion. And I guess I won’t keep it on the dresser anymore.

These are quite capacious.
Does it seem warm to you?
No man is just an island.
in the valley creases.

Only Lucy can see over you.
Pay ’em for a while.
Use the word ‘bewitches’ in a sentence
in the scarecrow position.

What is Jenny wearing to the dance tonight?
Seek alternate transportation.
Tag her remains.
Martyrs for a change
must be put to sleep,
midwinter savings, the years’ income.
Have you noticed how far/long
the hairs in your nose don’t take a day off from growing?
Chronology and ominous scribe complacency,
the pastel town dying
didn’t mean anything,
will have an impact on horrified onlookers.


This Incredible Tapestry

opened all around us and for four days
the saints bled and the skies proclaimed aloha
until it was time for the newborn to go home.

After having done that she was restless
and apparently undecided so other candidates
stepped up to the plate. And there was rancour
and some little rejoicing. So what did the separate
partakers do, on sun-warmed turf ? It was time to drink,
and drink they did until the heavens reopened
and the stars were raked into a pile. It is God’s
doing, the godless whispered, and so it became right.

Sure, he towelled, if it is this
fair way that answers up to you, you may dismiss the vowels
because one does not remember the yak that does not immediately
remember one. One does not scan the roads for politeness
or contribute to the desert economy. And lo
what he said became true for everyone
on earth and there was no parallel imagining.

After that you can go back to groundwork,
as though she’d been doin’ it. One of the biggest
recycling efforts ever undertaken in modern history.
But the solons wanted to know, why aren’t you the subject
and where does she get off dictating our lesson.

Listen, children, one doesn’t get over that;
not tomorrow, not easily, not in the salt air
of a recent busy season. It just reads that way.
Any jerk can take his clothes off; principals may bathe
if one person understands how it works.

So they went to bed. Other days could promise this now.
It was wrenched out of our hands, and felt good.

River of the Canoefish

These wilds came naturally by their monicker.
In 1825 the first canoefish was seen hanging offshore.
A few years later another one was spotted.
Today they are abundant as mackerel, as far as the eye can see,
tumbled, tumescent, tinted all the colours of the rainbow
though not in the same order,
a swelling, scumbled mass, rife with incident
and generally immune to sorrow.

Shall we gather at the river? On second thought, let’s not.

This poem is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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