Two Poems

John Ashbery

The Gods of Fairness

The failure to see God is not a problem
God has a problem with. Sure, he could see us
if he had a hankering to do so, but that’s
not the point. The point is his concern
for us and for biscuits. For the loaf
of bread that turns in the night sky over Stockholm.

Not there, over there. And I yelled them
what I had told them before. The affair is no one’s business.
The peeing man seemed not to notice either.
We came up the strand with carbuncles
and chessmen fetched from the wreck. Finally the surplus buzz
did notice, and it was fatal to our project.
We just gave up then and there, some of us dying, others walking
wearily but contentedly away. God had had his little joke,
but who was to say it wasn’t ours? Nobody, apparently,
which could be why the subject was never raised
in discussion groups in old houses along the harbour,
some of them practically falling into it.
Yet still they chatter a little ruefully: ‘I know
your grace’s preference.’ There are times
when I even think I can read his mind,
coated with seed-pearls and diamonds.
There they are, for the taking. Take them away.
Deposit them in whatever suburban bank you choose.
Hurry, before he changes his mind – again.

But all they did was lean on their shovels, dreaming
of spring planting, and the marvellous harvests to come.

The Impure

Your story ... most enjoyable.
I sat down and read it through from
beginning to end at one sitting,
whatever it is. Reams and reams of it.

White ambulances chase each other through the snow
and the fish swim by, too haughty
to have an opinion on anything.

These timed-release capsules work very well
but how could anyone know that? We are where
we began. This grey October day

that no one could have imagined, save Mama and Papa
sitting on their porch, having doubts about the weather.
When they go inside
it will all be over.

Casting about for some impurities
in your rock-crystal speech, I was struck by a tone
only mute dragonflies can keep up for long.

Then I thought about your brother Ben,
gone so long in the far land.
Would he return with the car,
with garlands flowing from its fenders,
to utter the word ‘drizzle’? Oh, Ben,
we liked you so much for such a long time.
Then you became insufferable to us
in just a few moments, for no reason. And now
we think we like you, Ben.