Sir Gammer Vans

John Ashbery

Last Sunday morning at six o’clock in the evening as I was sailing
over the tops of the mountains in my little boat a crewcut stranger
saluted me, so I asked him, could he tell me whether the little old
woman was dead yet who

was hanged last Saturday week for drowning herself in a shower of feathers?
‘Ask Monk Lewis what he thinks “been there done that” means in the so-called
evening of life. Chances are he’ll regale you with chess moves. All I
want is my damn prescription.’ ‘And you shall have it, sir,’ he answered
in a level voice. So he gave me a slice of beer and a cup of cold veal
and there was this little dog.

I see no reason to be more polite when the sun has passed its zenith,
yet ham radio operators infest every cove, defacing walls with their palaver.
And when two swans come to that, one swoons and is soothed.
The other lost inside a wall.

He seemed to think I knew some secret or other pertaining to the botched
logs in the fireplace. This caused him to avoid me I think
for a twelvemonth.
After which we got down to business and actually signed the contract.
He was inconsolable. The brat had cost him. With two wives and another
on the way wouldn’t commit himself to a used Chevy. Which is
understandable I think I said it’s understandable. The man
was in no mood to entertain these distinctions. At least I thought he said
bring on the heavy artillery the dream is now or
it won’t happen, not in my diary. Well why that’s just what
I think too, I blessed him. Cells in the wind. The sucker’ll be all
over our new templates, smearing them with grape honey, I’ll
challenge you for the right to beleaguer. To which he assented
abstractedly and it was over in a thrush. Not to . . . well excuse me
too. Curses I’d already signed on,
there was no need to jump for it, put a good face on it. Mild eyes
expressing a child’s dignity. OK for it to rot, it
was pompous to begin with.

‘No, don’t hang him,’ says he, for he killed a hare yesterday. And if you
don’t believe me I’ll show you the hare alive in a basket.

So they built a pontoon bridge, and when they had crossed over the fish applauded.
I was aghast, lost forty pounds at the gaming tables of the
Channel Islands, ‘sblood I said. So I set fire to my bow, poised my arrow,
and shot amongst them. I broke seventeen ribs on one side,
and twenty-one and a half on the other; but my arrow passed clean through
without ever touching it, and the worst was I lost my arrow;

however I found it again in the hollow of a tree. I felt it; it felt
clammy. I smelt it; it smelt honey.