Two Poems

John Ashbery

Not You Again

Thought I’d write you this poem. Yes,
I know you don’t need it. No,
you don’t have to thank me for it. Just
want to kind of get it off my chest
and drop it in the peanut dust.

You came at me and that was something.
I was more than a match for you, you
were a match for me, we undid the clasps
in our shirtings, it was a semblance of all right.

Then the untimely muse got wind of it.
Picked it up, hauled it over there.
The bandy-legged man was watching
all this time ‘... to have Betty back on board’.

Now it’s time for love-twenty.
Assume your places on the shuffleboard.
You, Sam, must make a purple prayer
out of origami and stuff it. If you’ve
puked it’s already too late.

I see all behind me small canyons, drifting,
filling up with the space of drifting.
The chair in the attic is up to no good.

Then you took me and held me like I was a child
or a prize. For a moment there I thought I knew you,
but you backed away, wiping your specs, ‘Oh,
excuse ...’ It’s okay,
will come another time

when stupendous seabirds are carilloning out over the Atlantic,
when the charging fire engine adjusts its orange petticoats
after knocking down the old man the girl picks up.
Now it’s too late, the books are closed, the salmon
no longer spewing. Just so you know.

Humble Pie

Various flavours recite us.
Meanwhile the inevitable Caspar David Friedrich painting
of a ship pointing somehow upward has slipped in like fog,
surrounding us with vowels of regret
for the things we did not do
rising like a great shout above the rain barrel.

I was going to say I kissed you once
when you were asleep, and that you took no notice.

Since that day I have been as a traveller
who scurries to and fro among nettles, never sure
of where he wants to end up, a Wandering Jew
with attitude.

All this time the sun had its eye on us
as it was going down. Finally, when it hit the horizon,
it had something to say. Something like pick up your two weeks’ salary
on your way out
and don’t ever let me catch you on this planet again.

Fine, but on what token shore
are we to be misted? We all have to end up somewhere together.
Might as well be in last week’s parish newsletter
or in the elbows of a nubian concubine.
I mean, we are right, somehow right, which is the same
thing only more so. Sticks and tokens
are my hymn to the sun that has gone,
never to return, it seems,
though.