Two Poems

John Ashbery

Planisphere

Mysterious barricades, a headrest (of sorts),
boarded the train at Shinjuku junction
to the palpable consternation of
certain other rubberneckers already installed
in the observation car of their dreams. ‘It’s so peaceful
on my pallet. I could just live here.’
In a second the deadbeat returned with lunch tokens.
It had been meant to be sublime, but hell was
what it more specifically resembled. Remember
to hold the course and take two of everything. That way
if we make journey’s end before the tracks expire
we’ll have been found living in it – the deep magenta
sunset I mean.

There is nothing like putting off a journey
until the next convenient interruption swamps
onlookers and ticketholders alike. We all more or less
resembled one another, until that fatal day in 1861
when the walkways fell off the mountains and the spruces
spruced down. I mean it was unimaginable in a way.
You’ll have to install a park with chairs and restrooms
for the weary and a simple but firm visitors’ code
for it to be given out in your name and become a boon
to limp multitudes who thought you were somebody else
or didn’t know what it was you did. But we’ll stay clean,
by God, and when the tide of misinformation reaches
the first terrace, we’ll know what to do: yell our heads off
and admit to no mistakes.

The land stretched away like jelly into a confused cleft.
All was yapping, the race having ended
before we arrived, with mixed results.
Nobody knew what they owed or how much credit
had been advanced, being incapable of niceties like buzzing
and herding fleas till the next shipment of analgesics arrived.
It was like forming signals out of loam when you were young
and too discouraged to care very much
about aftershocks or where the die ended up.
It was too smoky in the little kitchen garden or potager
to pay much mind to the rabbits and their plankton
dispensary. Something had been launched. We knew that.

He Who Loves and Runs Away

The bad news is the ship hasn’t arrived;
the good news is it hasn’t left yet.
It is still being loaded by natives with cone-shaped
hats on their heads. Here come the transistors,
bananas, durian (a fruit said to have a noxious smell),
baby bottles, photocopiers and souvenirs,
such glorious ones! Nothing useful except key-chains,
lockets to be furnished, a ball to stuff with life.

Yet it’s hard not to imagine the loss.
I think, though I can’t be sure,
that all this is being added to my bill.
Woe betide us! We shall never pay,
though, not in a million years.
Everything is promise.

Too late we acted outside the rhymes required,
honest, God-fearing, ass-wearing blokes
eager to accept the hand that fate had dealt us
and play with it. Now, brown sorrow is the correct
livery for when we go out. It’s important to
find a copy of the reproduction and send
or sell it back to them, ‘and with milk’.
That was the nicest thing about them, happy birthday.

For it you got a mandate?
Because I like it better, here, near the core.
You are sitting on the sofa.
Have a glass of something.
You will hear a city.