Two Poems

John Ashbery

Hierarchy of the Unexpected

There is still something I’d like to explain,
yet can’t be sure I’m ready yet.
Beside, we’ve done pretty well with the non-sequiturs,
and they by us, don’t you think? Next time
I recognise one I’ll call you, but will you hear me?
Will I suddenly find myself alone in some glade or dell
(it scarcely matters which) from which I’ll have a time
extricating myself? Let’s not waste time worrying
about needless necessities, though. I’ve packed a hamper
of dog food, there should be a star tonight
if we’re lucky, which as you know we seldom are,
and yet the violence of the race still pursues
us benevolently. What’s that, a shirt
you’ve got there? All is ready, I think, for this major tryst
that was going to be the last one, yet I see a whole lot of little
woolly ones marching straight over the hill to where the horizon
would be if we could ever catch it, make it spit out its name.
Oh it can be horrible out there sometimes.

Then there’s the obscure holiday
we hadn’t counted on. I was already dressed for work
trying to fasten my celluloid collar to my unforgiving,
slightly tattered shirt, and lo, a letter in pink ink
is deposited by a wavelet at my very door. Needs
must I read it. Well, we missed the first bus,
but another’s soon arriving, there will probably be more
empty seats, though we’ll arrive just as twilight is hinting
at encroaching at some point in the not too distant future.
At least the bills are paid. Yes! scream all those aboard.
I know I’ve left something behind – my sense of displacement
perhaps. Yet no mood will be shattered if we are diplomatic, for once.
The inheritors of those woods and groves won’t oppress us,
and there’ll be a chance for sleep and some grub. You’ll see.

Lost Profile

I had a voice once,
braid falling over the front
of my forehead-house and down the sides.
No need for cream separators here
someone said. My guide took it as a compliment.
Anyway, we got here. Somehow. Now the question

is losing relevance since water is everywhere,
like a transparent mine. I lost my voice a long time ago.
Voices of children ripple endlessly,
endorsing new products. The lizard-god explodes.

The lady on the next bar-stool
but one didn’t seem to understand
you when you spoke of ‘old dark house’ movies –
she thought there must be an old dark house somewhere
and you wanted to take her there.
Still, my arrival flummoxed her,
since it suggested you had no such thing in mind,
at least for the present.

And today I am a mad Chinese monk
chasing after his temple. Which way did it go?
Around that corner of bushes? Or was there ever
a temple? It seemed more and more likely
that it was a figment of your imagination, a figment
perhaps like many another, only a little more underripe.
Undeterred, I chase it in the madness of the gathering dusk
that crashes into ponds, trees, scared bridges.
It had to have been back here somewhere –

As if the air were pure lightning
and the earth, its consort, benevolent thunder,
I can stand and finally breathe.
Light shrinks from the edges of my fingernails
and armpits. This is a page that got bound in the diary
by mistake. It seems we were so happy once, just for a minute.
Then the sky got clouded, no one was happy or unhappy
forever, and the dream of the oppressor had come true.