Authors: John Ashbery
So fast I lose my breath, a not unpleasant feeling.
I feel as though I had been carrying the message for years
On my shoulders like Atlas, never feeling it
Because of never having known anything else. In another way
I am involved with the message. I want to put it down
(In two senses of “put it down”) so that you
May understand the agreeable destiny that awaits us.
You sigh. Your sigh will admit of no impatience,
Only a vast crater lake, vast as the sea,
In which the sky, smaller than that, is reflected.
I reach for my hat
And am bound to repeat with tact
The formal greeting I am charged with.
No one makes mistakes. No one runs away
Any more. I bite my lip and
Turn to you. Maybe now you understand.
The feeling is a jewel like a pearl.
my friend who
was in this
were on it
in with it
getting on with it
only passing by
a smell of hamburgers
an old mattress
and a box spring
filling the empty
of a street
in decay of time
it fell out that
there was no
whether out of a wish
to be moving on
willingness to stay
here to stand
had other plans
and now in this
jungle of darkness
the future still makes plans
O ready to go
Conceive of your plight
buried all but the most obtuse
only the most generalized
the low profile
becomes a constant again
the line of ocean
to rise again
drowns the hum
the false point
of the stars
new way of happening
no one remembers
the day you walked a certain distance
along the beach
in your tracks
for the first time
yes but now
is another way of
toward the end
the linear style
though this is
not realized for centuries
another way of living had come and gone
leaving its width
now the tall cedars
had become locked into
so that everywhere
not for colonies
but already closed
turned in on itself
as beautiful as the sea
where you go up
and say the word
all was lived in
had been lived in
was coming to an end
in the featureless present
that was expanding to
this just a little too
and so insure the second
of that day seen against the street
of whichever way
you walked and talked
knowing not knowing
the thing that was describing you
and not knowing
well somehow more informed
as you wind down
only a second
it did matter
you come back so seldom
but it’s all right
the way of staying
you started comes back
procession into the fire
into the sky
the dream you lost
firm in its day
reassured and remembered
Although I mean it, and project the meaning
As hard as I can into its brushed-metal surface,
It cannot, in this deteriorating climate, pick up
Where I leave off. It sees the Japanese text
(About two men making love on a foam-rubber bed)
As among the most massive secretions of the human spirit.
Its part is in the shade, beyond the iron spikes of the fence,
Mixing red with blue. As the day wears on
Those who come to seem reasonable are shouted down
Why you old goat!
Look who’s talkin’. Let’s see you
Climb off that tower—the waterworks architecture, both stupid and
Grandly humorous at the same time, is a kind of mask for him,
Like a seal’s face. Time and the weather
Don’t always go hand in hand, as here: sometimes
One is slanted sideways, disappears for awhile.
Then later it’s forget-me-not time, and rapturous
Clouds appear above the lawn, and the rose tells
The old old story, the pearl of the orient, occluded
And still apt to rise at times.)
A few black smudges
On the outer boulevards, like squashed midges
And the truth becomes a hole, something one has always known,
A heaviness in the trees, and no one can say
Where it comes from, or how long it will stay—
A randomness, a darkness of one’s own.
Like a serpent among roses, like an asp
Among withered thornapples I coil to
And at you. The name of the castle is you,
It is an all-night truck-stop
Offering the best coffee and hamburgers in Utah.
It is most beautiful and nocturnal by daylight.
Seven layers: moss-agate, coral, aventurine,
Carnelian, Swiss lapis, obsidian—maybe others.
You know now that it has the form of a string
Quartet. The different parts are always meddling with each other,
Pestering each other, getting in each other’s way
So as to withdraw skillfully at the end, leaving—what?
A new kind of emptiness, maybe bathed in freshness,
Maybe not. Maybe just a new kind of emptiness.
You are smart but the weather of this day startles and japes at you. You come out of it in pieces. Always pursuing you is the knowledge that I am there unable to turn around, unable to confront you with your otherness. This is another one of my houses, the one in Hampstead, the brick one in the middle of the block that you never saw though you passed along that street many times, sometimes in spring with a light drizzle blowing that made you avert your gaze, sometimes at the height of summer where the grandeur of the ideas of the trees swamped your ideas about everything, so you never saw my house. It was near where Arthur Rackham lived. I can’t quite remember the name of the street—some partly legible inscription on a Victorian urn: E and then MEL(E?), perhaps a Latin exhortation to apples or heroism, and down in the dim part a name like “Rossiter,” but that is too far down. Listen, I never meant for you not to be in my house. But you couldn’t because you were it.
In this part I reflect on the difficulty and surprise of being you. It may never get written. Some things are simultaneously too boring and too exciting to write about. This has to be one of them. Some day, when we’re stoned … Meanwhile, write to me. I enjoy and appreciate your phone calls, but it’s nice to get cards and letters too—so keep ’em comin’!
Through bearded twilight I hear things like “Now see here, young man!” or “Henry Groggins, you old reprobate!” or “For an hour Lester has been staring at budget figures, making no progress.” I know these things are, that they are. At night there are a few things, and they slide along to make room for others. Seen through an oval frame, one of the walls of a parlor. The wallpaper is a conventionalized pattern, the sliced okra and star-anise one, held together with crudely gummed links of different colored paper, among which purple predominates, stamped over a flocked background of grisaille shepherdesses and dogs urinating against fire hydrants. To reflect on the consummate skill with which the artist has rendered the drops as they bounce off the hydrant and collect in a gleaming sun-yellow pool below the curb is a sobering experience. Only the shelf of the mantelpiece shows. At each end, seated on pedestals turned slightly away from one another, two aristocratic bisque figures, a boy in delicate cerise and a girl in cornflower blue. Their shadows join in a grotesque silhouette. In the center, an ancient clock whose tick acts as the metronome for the sound of their high voices. Presently the mouths of the figures open and shut, after the mode of ordinary conversation.
Row across to you this afternoon,
My Irina! Always writing your beloved articles,
I see. Happened on one only recently in one of the more progressive journals.
Brilliantly written, or so it seemed, but isn’t your thought a bit too
Advanced by present-day standards? Of course, there was much truth
In what you said, but don’t you feel the public sometimes has more truth
Than it can cope with? I don’t mean that you should … well, “fib,”
But perhaps, well, heh heh, temper the wind to the shorn lamb
A bit. Eh? How about it, old boy?
Or are you so in love with your “advanced” thinking that everything else
Seems old hat to you, including my conversation no doubt? In that
Case I ought to be getting on. Goodness, I’ve a four-thirty appointment and it’s
Already five after. What have you done with my hat?
These things I write for you and you only.
Do not judge them too harshly. Temper the wind,
As he was saying. They are infant things
That may grow up to be children, perhaps—who knows?—
Even adults some day, but now they exist only in the blindness
Of your love for me and are the proof of it.
You can’t think about them too long
Without knocking them over. Your castle is a house of cards,
The old-fashioned kind of playing cards, towering farther
Than the eye can see into the clouds, and it is also built on
Shifting sands, its base slurps out of sight too. I am the inhabitable one.
But my back is as a door to you, now open, now shut,
And your kisses are as dreams, or an elixir
Of radium, or flowers of some kind.
Remember about what I told you.
Long ago was the then beginning to seem like now
As now is but the setting out on a new but still
now, the one once
Seen from far away, is our destiny
No matter what else may happen to us. It is
The present past of which our features,
Our opinions are made. We are half it and we
Care nothing about the rest of it. We
Can see far enough ahead for the rest of us to be
Implicit in the surroundings that twilight is.
We know that this part of the day comes every day
And we feel that, as it has its rights, so
We have our right to be ourselves in the measure
That we are in it and not some other day, or in
Some other place. The time suits us
Just as it fancies itself, but just so far
As we not give up that inch, breath
Of becoming before becoming may be seen,
Or come to seem all that it seems to mean now.
The things that were coming to be talked about
Have come and gone and are still remembered
As being recent. There is a grain of curiosity
At the base of some new thing, that unrolls
Its question mark like a new wave on the shore.
In coming to give, to give up what we had,
We have, we understand, gained or been gained
By what was passing through, bright with the sheen
Of things recently forgotten and revived.
Each image fits into place, with the calm
Of not having too many, of having just enough.
We live in the sigh of our present.
If that was all there was to have
We could re-imagine the other half, deducing it
From the shape of what is seen, thus
Being inserted into its idea of how we
Ought to proceed. It would be tragic to fit
Into the space created by our not having arrived yet,
To utter the speech that belongs there,
For progress occurs through re-inventing
These words from a dim recollection of them,
In violating that space in such a way as
To leave it intact. Yet we do after all
Belong here, and have moved a considerable
Distance; our passing is a facade.
But our understanding of it is justified.
The buildings, piled so casually
Behind each other, are “suggestions
Which, while only suggestions,
We hope you will take seriously.” Off into
The blue. Getting there is easier,
But then we hope you will come down.
There is a great deal on the ground today,
Not just mud, but things of some importance,
Too. Like, silver paint. How do you feel
About it? And, is this a silver age?
Yeah. I suppose so. But I keep looking at the cigarette
Burns on the edge of the sink, left over
From last winter. Your argument’s
Nearly beyond any paths I’m likely to take,
Here, or when I eventually leave here.
Orpheus liked the glad personal quality
Of the things beneath the sky. Of course, Eurydice was a part
Of this. Then one day, everything changed. He rends
Rocks into fissures with lament. Gullies, hummocks