Two Poems

John Ashbery

‘Beyond Albany and Syracuse …’

As handwriting sprawls
a page, revealing much about the writer’s psyche,
so too these lemons, dividends
of peace, in our time, my friend.

Don’t stagger the bejesus out of the old harness,
play with the dog, who yaps
afresh at any pretext of the blond air,
or stifle the air’s partisans, the moments.

Hard to pin down when the motorcade
stopped before your house.
Handsome, or stupid, got out, the brass oak leaves
draped over his forearm. ‘Methinks …’

That such a day existed, in gullies
and canyons, down to the picture
of this very day, fresh as a haircut,
puzzles minds. The year may not remember
the hurt, but the hurt does,
hidden among lobes of the augur plant
or phrasing in the sky. Blown off course,
but the course remains, faded watermark,
shadow of all resilience, to be found once summer
has ended, a random sarcophagus
viewed from the hotel kitchens.
Tree that sheltered Grandmother.
And you are it.

To have life come in at 70¢ less,
awful venal perverted life …
They must have started by now,
the manipulative strands.

We don’t need to do it yet,
not let a little thing like breathing handicap us.
Look at boxcars, at weapons in general.
Thunderstorms collected on the bridge.
A young nonprofessional tried to add it up.
Always there was more, yet somehow fewer
entities among the gaps in categories.

But then, these are quite different.

Tiramisù

Like a spoon dangling from a sixth-floor balcony
the gov’nor and his gent intruded. Woe is me,
I always say, to the eaves. Then his wife
and the other man’s came across to see what it
was we were doing, and why we should be left uncivilised
out of the final toll. That’s ‘Woe is me,’ and later
they were alone and were paying for it. We acted
hungry enough, rib-changing, horse-licking, kind of
interesting, but I’m too busy to be interested.

Wait a while, a whole while.
My symptoms have disappeared! Or:
You had to be there. Some people here
they’re tired. You can fuss with that.
Over a period of several years. In subsequent cities.