The Winemakers

John Ashbery

It wasn’t meant to stand for what it stood for.
Only a puptent could do that. Besides, we were in a state
called New York, where only bees made sense.

Those who were with us were not with us
and deserved a spanking. Others, looking out
over the bay’s mild waters could barely distinguish
a message made of logs: ‘Return to the frontier
or all is lost, though in time some may reap
the benefit and glory of a frozen attitude.’
My mind was made up.
We would start for Illinois that very day.

Have you considered firecrackers?
The deft music contained therein
assuages all contenders. Those who arrive last
at the party receive the most intelligent doorprizes.
My niece is in Nepal. My name was memorised
last week for the chilling rolls to come,
in which footsoldiers gasp, giggle and dream.
Say this for warmer climes, though:
Bears are let out at night to patrol the streets.
In the morning hope flushes the city anew.
I guess it was just that I always thought of snow
at the wrong times and defeatism came charging through the barricades.
It always knew where to find me.

Funny, few can now remember how water
came in pails once, and sails were free
for anyone who needed them for a boat.
Besides this six different types of student
were always shackled to the end of the wharf
in case anybody could use them for anything.
I think there’s a wind mask
out near the glue factory. So many kinds of hope
began the race. Some morphed into local interest
along the way; others discharged family and civic responsibilities.
Each of us was assigned a particular task, though none
realised it until the task was accomplished
and forgotten. The brouhaha of learning didn’t
seem to affect some any more than it did their teachers,
by now asleep. Night was soft for that sort of thing.

You remember the one, the little electrical villages down the road.
I’ll have a mustard coke. In ordinary times a store can find that.
Ah, but we live in a peculiar era.
You can’t get from there to here.
Well, now it’s something I’d be happy to write about.
It lands on your roof, a small package,
loved and warmed. For all your posturing you’d say so too,
I’d wager. Well, that’s enough of that now.
Better stack our hats in the cloud chamber.

Her magical bracelet opened suddenly
as though it were Christmas. We’d better be getting along
before it gets dark, or there’s no way out of the box.
They don’t carry them any more, besides which
there’s not much interest, only songs of the night
and fruits so beautifully presented
you’d swear you were in Asia the time before
this one, whatever it is, or where we
fetched up in the last century, the recent one
I mean. Like a dance, it completed itself
and ran out. Hey, it was just here!

So it is with the things that were more or less
dear to us and are now enfolded in the dream
of their happening. A man comes to the end of the drive,
looks around. No one sees him. He putters
and in the end is the last to leave. We may write about him,
or how his walk affected us. There he goes
again. If tact is a mortal sin
we shall not miss.