Three Poems

John Ashbery

Idea of Steve

Too bad I have this idea of him
based on someone else, named Matt
(another uncluttered name), whom I disliked
for no reason other than having once thought
he misprised me, which I didn’t really believe. (Whew!)
This is getting complicated, like always.

Let’s leave Steve at the wellhead of a dream,
where he belongs, and belongs also to others
who will make fun of him and gradually come to despise
themselves for doing so. He was a nice person and besides
didn’t deserve our unremitting attention, though
his bumper stickers indicated otherwise. Susan was different.
Who dials the phone and is further gone into snow
than the mass of individuals could be? She is quiet now,
she too.

The Later Me

shrinks from encounters with the earlier one,
you know, that one. The one we don’t speak about
except occasionally between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

A long time plotting, and he’s written out
of the sequel. We gave him a pleasant death.
Maybe he’ll be back soon,

we hope not. The china is all converted,
so we can dress together. Why a meeting was
never convened until yesterday remains unexplained,

along with much else. We thought it was tears.
Sitting alone in an open boat tells you a lot
about discipline. Any wrongdoing will be overlooked or punished.

Breathlike

Just as the day could use another hour,
I need another idea. Not a concept
or a slogan. Something more like a rut
made thousands of years ago by one of the first
wheels as it rolled along. It never came back
to see what it had done, and the rut
just stayed there, not thinking of itself
or calling attention to itself in any way.
Sun baked it. Water stood, or rather sat
in it. Wind covered it with dust, then blew it
away. Always it was available to itself
when it wished to be, which wasn’t often.

Then there was a cup and ball theory
I told you about. A lot of people had left the coast.
Squirt conditions obtained. I forgot I overwhelmed you
once upon a time, between everybody’s sound sleep
and waking afterward, trying to piece together
what had happened. The rut glimmered
through centuries of snow and after.
I suppose it was trying to make some point
but we never found out about that,
having come to know each other years later
when our interest in zoning had revived again.