Die Meistersinger

John Ashbery

Only those who actively dislike poetry didn’t like him. The others could care less. There were too many other things to worry about, like is my licence expired yet? Fortunately there were a few in-between, those who school themselves to take an interest in everything, which is not to say they’re not truly, deeply interested in the things that matter most. To them he was a special case, something to take home and place on the library table, and talk about. To them he was truly unique, like the first in what would become a memorable series.

Mostly these were opera lovers, lovers of all opera, whether by Verdi, Wagner, Gluck or Puccini. They adored this category, which to them was almost as a false religion, something that would have repercussions later but now we are enjoying it with no regrets, like a freshly cooked fish. And so he got off lightly, amid the ceremony of unsnapping pyramid-folded dinner napkins and making conversation about trivial subjects, the better to enjoy the illicit feast that was rolling down the rails toward them. ‘You’ll be my fancy, won’t you?’ Yes indeed, once I polish off this ephemeral morsel. Then we’ll all be more or less part of the conversation, which will lead to enlightenment.

Not so fast, though. He was raising himself, like a pudding on a platter. ‘You guys know where you are? I’m trying to figure out what in hell’s going on. So is he too,’ he added, waving his fork at the piebald host, who pressed a napkin to his exquisite lip.

‘No need to panic, folks. Our friend is but the first in a series that may well turn out to be infinite, if past experience is any indicator.’

The clock is running over, and an octopus wears my wallet now.