Disagreeable Glimpses

John Ashbery

After my fall from the 16th floor my bones were lovingly assembled. They were transparent. I was carried into the gorgeous dollhouse and placed on a fainting couch upholstered with brilliant poppies. My ship had come in, so to speak.

There were others, lovers, sitting and speaking nearby. ‘Are you the Countess of C?’ I demanded. She smiled and returned her gaze to the other. Someone brought in a tray of cakes which were distributed to the guests according to a fixed plan. ‘Here, this one’s for you. Take it.’ I looked and saw only a small cat rolling in the snow of the darkened gutter. ‘If this is mine, then I don’t want it.’ Abruptly the chords of a string quartet finished. I was on a shallow porch. The village movie palaces were letting out. I thought I saw a cousin from years back. Before I could call out she turned, sallow. I saw that this was not the person. Conversations continued streaming in the erstwhile twilight, I betook myself to the tollbooth. The pumpkin-yellow sun lit all this up, climbing slowly from ankles to handlebar.

He had shaved his head some seven years ago. The lovers were bored then. They no longer meandered by the brook’s side, telling and retelling ancient secrets, as though this time of life were an anomaly, a handicap that had been foreseen. ‘In truth these labels don’t go far. It was I who made a career in singing, but it could just as well have been somewhere else.’

Indeed? The dust was sweeping itself up, making sport of the broom. The solar disc was clogged with the bristles of impending resolution. Which direction did he say to take? I’m confused now, a little. It was my understanding we would in joining hands be chastised, that the boss man would be sympathetic, the sly apprentice unresonant as a squatter’s treehouse. See though, it wasn’t me that dictated . . .

that dictated the orbits of the plants, the viburnum at the door. And just as I had called to you, the image decomposed. Restlessness of fish in a deodorant ad. By golly, Uncle Ted will soon be here. Until it happens you can catch your breath, looking about the walls of the familiar nest. But his flight was delayed for five hours. Now someone was interested. The travel mishaps of others are truly absorbing. He read from a large timetable and the helium balloon rose straight up out of the city, entered the region of others’ indifference and their benighted cares. Can’t that child be made to stop practising?

In another life we were in a cottage made of thin boards, above a small lake. The embroidered hems of waves annoyed the shoreline. There were no boats, only trees and boathouses.

It’s good to step off that steel carousel. The woods were made for musicianly echoes, though not all at once. Too many echoes are like no echo, or a single tall one. Please return dishes to main room after using. Try a little subtlety in self-defence; it’ll help, you’ll find out.

The boards of the cottage grew apart and we walked out into the sand under the sea. It was time for the sun to exhort the mute apathy of sitters, hangers-on. Ballast of the universal dredging operation. The device was called candy. We had seen it all before but would never let on, not until the postman came right up to the door, borne on the noble flood. Racked by jetsam, we cry out for flotsam, anything to staunch the hole in the big ad.

We all came to be here quite naturally. You see we are the lamplighters of our criminal past, trailing red across the sidewalks and divided highways. Yes, she said, you most certainly can come here now and be assured of staying, of starving, for ever if we wish, though we shall not observe the dark’s convolutions much longer (sob). Utterly you are the under one, we are all neighbours if you wish, but don’t under any circumstances go crawling to the barrel organ for sympathy, you would only blow a fuse and where’s the force in that? I know your seriousness is long gone, facing pink horizons in other hemispheres. We’d all blow up if it didn’t. Meanwhile it’s nice to have a chair. A chair is a good thing to be. We should all know that.

The last trail unspools beyond Ohio.