Two Poems

John Ashbery

I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait

Time, you old miscreant! Slain any brontosauruses lately? You –
Sixty wondering days I watched him navigate the alkali lick,
always a little power ebbing, streaming from high windowsills.
Down here the tetched are lonely. There’s nothing they can do
except spit.

We felt better about answering the business letter
once the resulting hubris had been grandfathered in,
slowly, by a withered sage in clogs
and a poncho vast as a delta, made of some rubbery satinlike
material. It was New Year’s Eve
again. Time to get out the punchbowl,
make some resolutions,
I don’t think.

The Lightning Conductor

The general was always particular about his withers,
lived in a newspaper tent
someone had let fall beside an easy chair.
Telling the man with no fingers what it was like to smoke a cigarette
in the Twenties, we proceeded naturally to your cousin Junius.
His plan was to overtake the now-speeding tortoise
by digging some kind of a fire-trench in its path,
which would cause it to wonder,
fatally, for a second,
after which we could all go back to channelling the news.
There’s a story here about a kind of grass that grows in the Amazon
valley that is too tall for birds to fly over –
they fly past it instead –
yet leeches have no trouble navigating its circuitous heaps
and are wont to throw celebratory banquets afterwards,
at which awards are given out – best costume in a period piece
too distracted by the rapids to notice what period it is, and so on.
Before retiring the general liked to play a game of all-white dominoes,
after which he would place his nightcap distractedly on the other man’s crocheted chamber-pot lid.
Subsiding into fitful slumber, warily he dreams
of the giant hand descended from heaven
like the slope of a moraine, whose fingers were bedizened with rings
in which every event that had ever happened in the universe could sometimes be discerned.

Sometimes you end up in a slough no matter what happens,
no matter how many precautions have been taken, threads picked from the tapestry
that was to have provided us with underwear, and now is bare as any
grassless season, on whatever coast you choose to engage.
It’s sad that many were left behind,
but a good thing for the bluebirds in their beige houses.
They never saw any reason to join the vast, confused migration,
fucking like minks as far as the spotty horizon.
It doesn’t get desperately cold any more, and that’s certainly a lucky anomaly too.