John Lawrence Ashbery was an American poet and art critic. Ashbery is considered the most influential poet of his time. Oxford University literary critic John Bayley wrote that Ashbery “sounded, in poetry, the standard tones of the age.”
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Most Famous John Ashbery Poems
Sometimes something like a second
washes the base of this street.
The father and his two assistants
are given permission to go.
One of them, a woman, asks, “Why
did we come here in the first place,
to this citadel of dampness?”
Some days are worse than others,
even if we can’t believe in them.
But that was never a concern of mine,
reasoned the patient.
Sing, scroll, or never be blasted by us
into marmoreal meaning, or the fist for it.
Kudos to the prince who journeyed here
to negotiate our release, if you can believe it.
You’re right. The ballads are retreating
back into the atmosphere.
They won’t be coming round again.
Make your peace.
Like a Sentence
How little we know,
and when we know it!
It was prettily said that “No man
hath an abundance of cows on the plain, nor shards
in his cupboard.” Wait! I think I know who said that! It was . . .
Never mind, dears, the afternoon
will fold you up, along with preoccupations
that now seem so important, until only a child
running around on a unicycle occupies center stage.
Then what will you make of walls? And I fear you
will have to come up with something,
be it a terraced gambit above the sea
or gossip overheard in the marketplace.
For you see, it becomes you to be chastened:
for the old to envy the young,
and for youth to fear not getting older,
where the paths through the elms, the carnivals, begin.
And it was said of Gyges that his ring
attracted those who saw him not,
just as those who wandered through him were aware
only of a certain stillness, such as precedes an earache,
while lumberjacks in headbands came down to see what all the fuss was about,
whether it was something they could be part of
sans affront to self-esteem.
And those temple hyenas who had seen enough,
nostrils aflare, fur backing up in the breeze,
were no place you could count on,
having taken a proverbial powder
as rifle butts received another notch.
I, meanwhile . . . I was going to say I had squandered spring
when summer came along and took it from me
like a terrier a lady has asked one to hold for a moment
while she adjusts her stocking in the mirror of a weighing machine.
But here it is winter, and wrong
to speak of other seasons as though they exist.
Time has only an agenda
in the wallet at his back, while we
who think we know where we are going unfazed
end up in brilliant woods, nourished more than we can know
by the unexpectedness of ice and stars
and crackling tears. We’ll just have to make a go of it,
a run for it. And should the smell of baking cookies appease
one or the other of the olfactory senses, climb down
into this wagonload of prisoners.
The meter will be screamingly clear then,
the rhythms unbounced, for though we came
to life as to a school, we must leave it without graduating
even as an ominous wind puffs out the sails
of proud feluccas who don’t know where they’re headed,
only that a motion is etched there, shaking to be free.
Leave the Hand In
Furthermore, Mr. Tuttle used to have to run in the streets.
Now, each time friendship happens, they’re fully booked.
Sporting with amaryllis in the shade is all fine and good,
but when your sparring partner gets there first
you wonder if it was all worth it. “Yes, why do it?”
I’m on hold. It will take quite a lot for this music
to grow on me. I meant no harm. I’ve helped him
from getting stuck before. Dumb thing. All my appetites are friendly.
Children too are free to go and come as they please.
I ask you only to choose between us, then shut down this election.
But don’t reveal too much of your hand at any given time.
Then up and pipes the major, leave the hand in,
or change the vows. The bold, enduring menace of courtship is upon us
like the plague, and none of us can say what trouble
will be precipitated once it has had its way with us.
Our home is marshland. After dinner was wraparound.
You got a tender little look at it.
Outside, it never did turn golden.
The girl in the green ski chasuble
hasn’t yet graduated from radio school.
Let’s pay attention.
Looking ahead, why, he waved his mouth along.
Doesn’t life get difficult in the summer?
The divine medicine for it collapsed
in front of the shortstop,
who took off like a battalion.
Crowds of older people who would read this
happily, willingly, then walking into night’s embrace,
then kiss. “To turn you out, to turn you out!”
Sometimes an arm is accused:
You could have felt it, the blue shirts,
phlegm central, four times a night.
But what does that get me?
When the suburban demonstration kind of shrunk
you put your foot out,
leave it or kiss it
or even two years ago,
Charmaine here tells us.
I think I should stay …
Cross-eyed sonofabitch …
He liked him, he could tell. A de-happening.
The gangster no longer wanted to sleep with him,
but what the heck. With time off
for actual fuzz collected … All right, boys.
Cheap murders, peach driven … I seen enough of those
samples along the way.
Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.
Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.
Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.
No changes of support—only
Patches of gray, here where sunlight fell.
The house seems heavier
Now that they have gone away.
In fact it emptied in record time.
When the flat table used to result
A match recedes, slowly, into the night.
The academy of the future is
Opening its doors and willing
The fruitless sunlight streams into domes,
The chairs piled high with books and papers.
The sedate one is this month’s skittish one
Confirming the property that,
A timeless value, has changed hands.
And you could have a new automobile
Ping pong set and garage, but the thief
Stole everything like a miracle.
In his book there was a picture of treason only
And in the garden, cries and colors.
How to Continue
Oh there once was a woman
and she kept a shop
selling trinkets to tourists
not far from a dock
who came to see what life could be
far back on the island.
And it was always a party there
always different but very nice
New friends to give you advice
or fall in love with you which is nice
and each grew so perfectly from the other
it was a marvel of poetry
And in this unsafe quarter
much was scary and dirty
but no one seemed to mind
the parties went on from house to house
There were friends and lovers galore
all around the store
There was moonshine in winter
and starshine in summer
and everybody was happy to have discovered
what they discovered
And then one day the ship sailed away
There were no more dreamers just sleepers
in heavy attitudes on the dock
moving as if they knew how
among the trinkets and the souvenirs
the random shops of modern furniture
and a gale came and said
it is time to take all of you away
from the tops of the trees to the little houses
on little paths so startled
And when it became time to go
they none of them would leave without the other
for they said we are all one here
and if one of us goes the other will not go
and the wind whispered it to the stars
the people all got up to go
and looked back on love
We have a friend in common, the retired sophomore.
His concern: that I shall get it like that,
in the right and righter of a green bush
chomping on future considerations. In the ghostly
dreams of others it appears I am all right,
and even going on tomorrow there is much
to be said on all these matters, “issues,” like
“No rest for the weary.” (And yet—why not?)
Feeling under orders is a way of showing up,
but stepping on Earth—she’s not going to.
Ten shades of pleasing himself brings us to tomorrow
evening and will be back for more. I disagree
with you completely but couldn’t be prouder
and fonder of you. So drink up. Feel good for two.
I do it in a lot of places. Subfusc El Dorado
is only one that I know something about.
Others are recently lost cities
where we used to live—they keep the names
we knew, sometimes. I do it in a lot of places.
Brash brats offer laughing advice,
as though anything I cared about could be difficult
or complicated now. That’s the rub. Gusts of up
to forty-five miles an hour will be dropping in later
on tonight. No reason not to. So point at the luck
we know about. Living is a meatloaf sandwich.
I had a good time up there.
Whether the harborline or the east shoreline
consummated it was nobody’s biz until you got there,
eyelids ashimmer, content with one more dispensation
from blue above. And just like we were saying,
the people began to show some interest
in the mud-choked harbor. It could be summer again
for all anyone in our class knew.
Yeah, that’s right. Bumped from our dog-perch,
we’d had to roil with the last of them.
It’s taken a while since I’ve been here,
but I’m resolved. What, didn’t I print,
little piles of notes, slopes almost Sicilian?
Here is my friend:
Socks for comfort (now boys) will see later. Did they come?
The inner grocery had to take three sets of clips away.
Speaking to him of intricate family affairs.
I’m not what you think. Stay preconscious.
It’s just the “flooding of the council.” No need to feel afraid.
And in a little while we broke under the strain:
suppurations ad nauseam, the wanting to be taller,
though it‘s simply about being mysterious, i.e., not taller,
like any tree in any forest.
Mute, the pancake describes you.
It had tiny roman numerals embedded in its rim.
It was a pancake clock. They had ’em in those days,
always getting smaller, which is why they finally became extinct.
It was a hundred years before anyone noticed.
The governor general
called it “sinuous.” But we, we had other names for it,
knew it was going to be around for a long time,
even though extinct. And sure as shillelaghs fall from trees
onto frozen doorsteps, it came round again
when all memory of it had been expunged
from the common brain.
Everybody wants to try one of those new pancake clocks.
A boyfriend in the next town had one
but conveniently forgot to bring it over each time we invited him.
Finally the rumors grew more fabulous than the real thing:
I hear they are encrusted with tangles of briar rose,
not even a prince seeking the Sleeping Beauty could get inside.
What’s more, there are more of them than when they were extinct,
yet the prices keep on rising. They have them in the Hesperides
and in shantytowns on the edge of the known world,
blue with cold. All downtowns used to feature them.
too, were big that year. But why is it that with so many people
who want to know what a shout is about, nobody can find the original recipe?
All too soon, no one cares. We go back to doing little things for each other,
pasting stamps together to form a tiny train track, and other,
less noticeable things. And the past is forgotten till next time.
How to describe the years? Some were like blocks of the palest halvah,
careless of being touched. Some took each others’ trash out,
put each other’s eyes out. So many got thrown out
before anyone noticed, that it was like a chiaroscuro
of collapsing clouds.
How I longed to visit you again in that old house! But you were deaf,
or dead. Our letters crossed. A motorboat was ferrying me out past
the reef, people on shore looked like dolls fingering stuffs.
keeps coming out, about the dogs I mean. Surely a simple embrace
from an itinerant fish would have been spurned at certain periods. Not now.
There is a famine of years in the land, the women are beautiful,
but prematurely old and worn. It doesn’t get better. Rocks half-buried
in bands of sand, and spontaneous execrations.
I yell to the ship’s front door,
wanting to be taller, and somewhere in the middle all this gets lost.
I was a phantom for a day. My friends carried me around with them.
It always turns out that much is salvageable.
haven’t floated away on the flood. Lacemakers are back in business
with a vengeance. All the locksmiths had left town during the night.
It happened to be a beautiful time of season, spring or fall,
the air was digestible, the fish tied in love-knots
on their gurneys. Yes, and journeys
were palpable too: Someone had spoken of saving appearances
and the walls were just a little too blue in mid-morning.
Was there ever such a time? I’d like to handle you,
bruise you with kisses for it, yet something always stops me short:
the knowledge that this isn‘t history,
no matter how many
times we keep mistaking it for the present, that headlines
trumpet each day. But behind the unsightly school building, now a pickle
warehouse, the true nature of things is known, is not overrided:
Yours is a vote like any other. And there is fraud at the ballot boxes,
stuffed with lace valentines and fortunes from automatic scales,
dispensed with a lofty kind of charity, as though this could matter
to us, these tunes
carried by the wind
from a barrel organ several leagues away. No, this is not the time
to reveal your deception to us. Wait till rain and old age
have softened us up a little more.
Then we’ll see how extinct
the various races have become, how the years stand up
to their descriptions, no matter how misleading,
and how long the disbanded armies stay around. I must congratulate you
on your detective work, for I am a connoisseur
of close embroidery, though I don’t have a diploma to show for it.
The trees, the barren trees, have been described more than once.
Always they are taller, it seems, and the river passes them
without noticing. We, too, are taller,
our ceilings higher, our walls more tinctured
with telling frescoes, our dooryards both airier and vaguer,
according as time passes and weaves its minute deceptions in and out,
a secret thread.
Peace is a full stop.
And though we had some chance of slipping past the blockade,
now only time will consent to have anything to do with us,
for what purposes we do not know.
By Guess and by Gosh
O awaken with me
the inquiring goodbyes.
Ooh what a messy business
a tangle and a muddle
(and made it seem quite interesting).
He ticks them off:
a different ride home,
whispering, in a way,
so many of the things you have to share.
But I was getting on,
and that’s what you don’t need.
I’m certainly sorry about scaring your king,
if indeed that’s what happened to him.
You get Peanuts and War and Peace,
some in rags, some in jags, some in
velvet gown. They want
the other side of the printing plant.
There were concerns.
Say hi to jock itch, leadership principles,
Take that, perfect pitch.
And say a word for the president,
for the scholar magazines, papers, a streaming.
Then you are interested in poetry.
Impatient as we were for all of them to join us,
The land had not yet risen into view: gulls had swept the gray steel towers away
So that it profited less to go searching, away over the humming earth
Than to stay in immediate relation to these other things—boxes, store parts, whatever you wanted to call them—
Whose installedness was the price of further revolutions, so you knew this combat was the last.
And still the relationship waxed, billowed like scenery on the breeze.
They are the same aren’t they,
The presumed landscape and the dream of home
Because the people are all homesick today or desperately sleeping,
Trying to remember how those rectangular shapes
Became so extraneous and so near
To create a foreground of quiet knowledge
In which youth had grown old, chanting and singing wise hymns that
Will sign for old age
And so lift up the past to be persuaded, and be put down again.
The warning is nothing more than an aspirate “h”;
The problem is sketched completely, like fireworks mounted on poles:
Complexion of evening, the accurate voices of the others.
During Coca-Cola lessons it becomes patent
Of noise on the left, and we had so skipped a stage that
The great wave of the past, compounded in derision,
Submerged idea and non-dreamer alike
In falsetto starlight like “purity”
Of design that had been the first danger sign
To wash the sticky, icky stuff down the drain—pfui!
How does it feel to be outside and inside at the same time,
The delicious feeling of the air contradicting and secretly abetting
The interior warmth? But the land curdles the dismay in which it’s written
Bearing to a final point of folly and doom
The wisdom of these generations.
Look at what you’ve done to the landscape—
The ice cube, the olive—
There is a perfect tri-city mesh of things
Extending all the way along the river on both sides
With the end left for thoughts on construction
That are always turning to alps and thresholds
Above the tide of others, feeding a European moss rose without glory.
We shall very soon have the pleasure of recording
A period of unanimous tergiversation in this respect
And to make that pleasure the greater, it is worth while
At the risk of tedious iteration, to put first upon record a final protest:
Rather decaying art, genius, inspiration to hold to
An impossible “calque” of reality, than
“The new school of the trivial, rising up on the field of battle,
Something of sludge and leaf-mold,” and life
Goes trickling out through the holes, like water through a sieve,
All in one direction.
You who were directionless, and thought it would solve everything if you found one,
What do you make of this? Just because a thing is immortal
Is that any reason to worship it? Death, after all, is immortal.
But you have gone into your houses and shut the doors, meaning
There can be no further discussion.
And the river pursues its lonely course
With the sky and the trees cast up from the landscape
For green brings unhappiness—le vert Porte malheur.
“The chartreuse mountain on the absinthe plain
Makes the strong man’s tears tumble down like rain.”
All this came to pass eons ago.
Your program worked out perfectly. You even avoided
The monotony of perfection by leaving in certain flaws:
A backward way of becoming, a forced handshake,
An absent-minded smile, though in fact nothing was left to chance.
Each detail was startlingly clear, as though seen through a magnifying glass,
Or would have been to an ideal observer, namely yourself—
For only you could watch yourself so patiently from afar
The way God watches a sinner on the path to redemption,
Sometimes disappearing into valleys, but always on the way,
For it all builds up into something, meaningless or meaningful
As architecture, because planned and then abandoned when completed,
To live afterwards, in sunlight and shadow, a certain amount of years.
Who cares about what was there before? There is no going back,
For standing still means death, and life is moving on,
Moving on towards death. But sometimes standing still is also life.
Bunch of Stuff
To all events I squirted you
knowing this not to be this came to pass
when we were out and it looked good.
Why wouldn’t you want a fresh piece
of outlook to stand in down the years?
See, your house, a former human energy construction,
crashed with us for a few days in May
and sure enough, the polar inscape
brought about some easier poems,
which I guessed was a good thing. At least
some of us were relaxed, Steamboat Bill included.
He didn’t drink nothing.
It was one thing
to be ready for their challenge, quite another to accept it.
And if I had a piece of advice for you, this is it:
Poke fun at balm, then suffer lethargy
to irradiate its shallow flood in the new packaging
our enemies processed. They should know.
The Gold Dust Twins never stopped supplicating Hoosiers
to limn the trail. There’s no Shakespeare.
Through the window, Casanova.
Couldn’t get to sleep in the dumb incident
of those days, crimping the frozen feet of Lincoln.
Here in life, they would understand.
How could it be otherwise? We had groped too,
unwise, till the margin began to give way,
at which point all was sullen, or lost, or both.
Now it was time, and there was nothing for it.
We had a good meal, I and my friend,
slurping from the milk pail, grabbing at newer vegetables.
Yet life was a desert. Come home, in good faith.
You can still decide to. But it wanted warmth.
Otherwise ruse and subtlety would become impossible
in the few years or hours left to us. “Yes, but . . .”
The iconic beggars shuffled off too. I told you,
once a breach emerges it will become a chasm
before anyone’s had a chance to waver. A dispute
on the far side of town erupts into a war
in no time at all, and ends as abruptly. The tendency to heal
sweeps all before it, into the arroyo, the mine shaft,
into whatever pocket you were contemplating. And the truly lost
make up for it. It’s always us that has to pay.
I have a suggestion to make: draw the sting out
as probingly as you please. Plaster the windows over
with wood pulp against the noon gloom proposing its enigmas,
its elixirs. Banish truth-telling.
That’s the whole point, as I understand it.
Each new investigation rebuilds the urgency,
like a sand rampart. And further reflection undermines it,
causing its eventual collapse. We could see all that
from a distance, as on a curving abacus, in urgency mode
from day one, but by then dispatches hardly mattered.
It was camaraderie, or something like it, that did,
poring over us like we were papyri, hoping to find one
correct attitude sketched on the gaslit air, night’s friendly takeover.
Blueprints and Others
The man across the street seems happy,
or pleased. Sometimes a porter evades the grounds.
After you play a lot with the military
you are my own best customer.
I’ve done five of that.
Make my halloween. Ask me not to say it.
The old man wants to see you — now.
That’s all right, but find your own.
Do you want to stop using these?
Last winning people told me to sit on the urinal.
Do not put on others what you can put on yourself.
How to be in the city my loved one.
Men in underwear … A biography field
like where we live in the mountains,
a falling. Yes I know you have.
Troves of merchandise, you know, “boomer buzz.”
Hillbilly sculptures of the outside.
(They won’t see anybody.)
The bruise will stop by later.
For now, the pain pauses in its round,
notes the time of day, the patient’s temperature,
leaves a memo for the surrogate: What the hell
did you think you were doing? I mean . . .
Oh well, less said the better, they all say.
I’ll post this at the desk.
God will find the pattern and break it.
And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name
You can’t say it that way any more.
Bothered about beauty you have to
Come out into the open, into a clearing,
And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
Of you, you who have so many lovers,
People who look up to you and are willing
To do things for you, but you think
It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
So much for self-analysis. Now,
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
There are a lot of other things of the same quality
As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
Ought to be written about how this affects
You when you write poetry:
The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.
Alms for the Beekeeper
He makes better errors that way.
Pass it around at breakfast:
the family and all, down there with a proximate sense of power,
lawyering up. Less log-heavy, your text-strategy
beat out other options, is languid.
Duets in the dust start up,
He entered the firm at night.
The 26th is a Monday.
A Worldly Country
Not the smoothness, not the insane clocks on the square,
the scent of manure in the municipal parterre,
not the fabrics, the sullen mockery of Tweety Bird,
not the fresh troops that needed freshening up. If it occurred
in real time, it was OK, and if it was time in a novel
that was OK too. From palace and hovel
the great parade flooded avenue and byway
and turnip fields became just another highway.
Leftover bonbons were thrown to the chickens
and geese, who squawked like the very dickens.
There was no peace in the bathroom, none in the china closet
or the banks, where no one came to make a deposit.
In short all hell broke loose that wide afternoon.
By evening all was calm again. A crescent moon
hung in the sky like a parrot on its perch.
Departing guests smiled and called, ‘See you in church!’
For night, as usual, knew what it was doing,
providing sleep to offset the great ungluing
that tomorrow again would surely bring.
As I gazed at the quiet rubble, one thing
puzzled me: What had happened, and why?
One minute we were up to our necks in rebelliousness,
and the next, peace had subdued the ranks of hellishness.
So often it happens that the time we turn around in
soon becomes the shoal our pathetic skiff will run aground in.
And just as waves are anchored to the bottom of the sea
we must reach the shallows before God cuts us free
A Voice from the Fireplace
Like a windup denture in a joke store
fate approaches, leans quietly. Let’s see . . .
There was moreover meaning in the last clause,
meaning we couldn’t equate
from what was happening to us down the block.
We approached with some hesitancy:
Let “I dare not” wait upon “I would.”
Wasn’t it April? Weren’t things more likely to last
in this or any season? Rhymes we like.
More than rhythm, they provide a life preserver
for embarrassing sorties. Um, someday we’ll be grown up too,
the desk lights not cancel the barge
as it approaches the corner of avenues.
sweated that out. It amounts to self-importance.
Whether the sea is a vernacular one
only heroes can describe. Why don’t you pluck me one?
Seems they all rushed to the other side
of the deck, causing alarm.
Wind shriveled the rags that were left.
Hold on a minute, we’ll get you aloft.
No sense taking up time with vellum sunsets,
he hears, and cannot stay. The whitish, gluey smell
of the forest imbibes our earnings in a dream.
Egg whites dry at room temperature.
In my mature moments I was robotic like you
but never canceled my interest.
We all attempt starting out, yet few undergo
the first few days of orientation lightly.
Which is funny, I mean with so many around to project
enlightenment or entertainment. If you live
in a wren house you’ll quickly understand what I mean.
That, needless to say, was the last time
I heard from them. I continue to get their flyers
in the mail but the project remains uninhabited.
Flowers and goats cram the entrance with something
you can see over. The orange sea propels itself
lightly forward, ever in quest of spectators,
but you can only do just so much in the way of self-formation.
I hadn’t expected it to be otherwise,
yet it doesn’t seem right. Neither is it unjust,
only pro forma. Nights imply seasons
and much in the way of impish narrative, while in daylight
it’s a matter of getting flush with the pavement.
Don’t forget to check every box
on the front door and leave change for the milkman.
Too bad they spotted us. Like I say,
no jury will ever convict he or I. Off you go then.
An egg is a puzzle, a tree a piece of that puzzle.
I’ve had a pleasant but uneven time.
My helpmates could aver as much. Let us know
how much we owe you. The balloon is ascending
above ferns, teacup chimneys, striped stockings.
So long training wheels. I’m gone for three weeks at a time.
What the bad news was
became apparent too late
for us to do anything good about it.
I was offered no urgent dreaming,
didn’t need a name or anything.
Everything was taken care of.
In the medium-size city of my awareness
voles are building colossi.
The blue room is over there.
He put out no feelers.
The day was all as one to him.
Some days he never leaves his room
and those are the best days,
There were morose gardens farther down the slope,
anthills that looked like they belonged there.
The sausages were undercooked,
the wine too cold, the bread molten.
Who said to bring sweaters?
The climate’s not that dependable.
The Atlantic crawled slowly to the left
pinning a message on the unbound golden hair of sleeping maidens,
a ruse for next time,
where fire and water are rampant in the streets,
the gate closed—no visitors today
or any evident heartbeat.
I got rid of the book of fairy tales,
pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse,
found myself back here at six o’clock,
pondering “possible side effects.”
There was no harm in loving then,
no certain good either. But love was loving servants
or bosses. No straight road issuing from it.
Leaves around the door are penciled losses.
Twenty years to fix it.
Asters bloom one way or another.
The Problem of Anxiety
Fifty years have passed
since I started living in those dark towns
I was telling you about.
Well, not much has changed. I still can’t figure out
how to get from the post office to the swings in the park.
Apple trees blossom in the cold, not from conviction,
and my hair is the color of dandelion fluff.
Suppose this poem were about you – would you
put in the things I’ve carefully left out:
descriptions of pain, and sex, and how shiftily
people behave toward each other? Naw, that’s
all in some book it seems. For you
I’ve saved the descriptions of chicken sandwiches,
and the glass eye that stares at me in amazement
from the bronze mantel, and will never be appeased.
The New Higher
You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave that there.
Blithely passing in and out of where, blushing shyly
at the tag on the overcoat near the window where
the outside crept away, I put aside the there and now.
Now it was time to stumble anew,
blacking out when time came in the window.
There was not much of it left.
I laughed and put my hands shyly
across your eyes. Can you see now?
Yes I can see I am only in the where
where the blossoming stream takes off, under your window.
Go presently you said. Go from my window.
I am in love with your window I cannot undermine