Three Poems

John Ashbery

Composition

We used to call it the boob tube,
but I guess they don’t use tubes anymore.
Whatever, it serves a small purpose after waking
and before falling asleep. Today’s news –
but is there such a thing as news,
or even history? Yes, when you want to go back
after a while and appraise the accumulation
of leaves, say, in the sandbox.
The rest is rented depression,
available only in season
and the season is always next month,
a pure but troubled time.

That’s why I don’t go out much, though
staying at home never seemed much of an option.
And speaking of nutty concepts, surely ‘home’
is way up there on the list. I feel more certain about ‘now’
and ‘then’, because they are close to me,
like lovers, though apparently not in love with me,
as I am with them. I like to call to them,
and sometimes they reply, out of the deep business of some dream.

Like Most Seas

The cellos offer appropriate pithy fare
to the violas, who aspire to something higher,
not, as it turns out, on the map. We walk the familiar avenue
into the city, and a few raindrops
tickle the leaves overhead. Down here it is mostly dry
and unserious. On tough ground right now
truant officers pronounce the schools sound. Yay!
And the dog catcher has announced his retirement
by the end of August. Spaced not too far
from each other, the bridges resemble moonstones.
Space needles lean into the breeze.

Just this far it happened, on another day:
mothers gave notice, their kids a seething conundrum
of blacked-out jokes and memory passages.
Not all of us were being let in, and the portcullis
seemed to take a distinct relish in spearing
the most rumpled and least distinguished, though there was no question
of justice; the provisional government had been abolished back in winter.
Slander was acceptable and as lighthearted
as comments on one’s pachysandra or the new tax rolls.
We could hear the gargle of the sea from a great distance.
Soon it would be lapping at the attics of the poor
and the high-flown terraces of the rich.
No one thought about leaving, or rather it was moving
that no one thought about. We were each happy in the round cell
of our self-determination, attentively falling out of love
with the atrium of tomorrow, its muscle, its derring-do.

The Situation Upstairs

Like a forest fire in a jungle
with no one to watch it, this sea breeze
releases me to the cloud of knowing.

There are beaters in the woods,
nourishing it, and you’re it,
reciting it. The long scramble upstairs
landed us here. There is no method
in the alphabet; the urchin came unseated.

You have to learn to ‘bounce’
with the ages, just to keep up with time.
By then it will have been censored,
bleached from an autumn of folly.
In time we were twins, grew apart,
felt the centennial dawning.
There was nowhere to turn
and nobody to turn to.

To have ‘landed’ requires skills
we knew nothing of in our era,
yet their musicianly acts accompany us,
push us out of doors, into late summer’s clamour.

Now our pleated longevity mimics us.
We should have been nicer, talked to children
and their pets. To draw the tapestry aside
at this late date is to shuffle with fools
and clergymen, though there is one more thankless
task to claim and be influenced by:
the credible flight of footfall plays and calls.

These not any more for our adornment:
talking to new rulers and insight gained,
sunflowers over and out,
ashes on the clapboard credenza.