sonnet

The barber at his chair
Clips me. He does as he goes.
He clips the hairs outside the nose.
Too many preparations, nose!
I see the raincoat this Saturday.
A building is against the sky—
The result is more sky.
Something gathers in painfully.

To be the razor—how would you like to be
The razor, blue with ire,
That presses me? This is the wrong way.
The canoe speeds toward a waterfall.
Something, prince, in our backward manners—
You guessed the reason for the storm.

(John Ashbery, from Some Trees.)

meditations of a parrot

Oh the rocks and the thimble
The oasis and the bed
Oh the jacket and the roses.

All sweetly stood up the sea to me
Like blue cornflakes in a white bowl.
The girl said, “Watch this.”

I come from Spain, I said.
I was purchased at a fair.
She said, “None of us know.

“There was a house once
Of dazzling canopies
And halls like a keyboard.

“These the waves tore in pieces.”
(His old wound—
And all day: Robin Hood! Robin Hood!)

(John Ashbery, from Some Trees.)

the hero

Whose face is this
So stiff against the blue trees,

Lifted to the future
Because there is no end?

But that has faded
Like flowers, like the first days

Of good conduct. Visit
The strong man. Pinch him—

There is no end to his
Dislike, the accurate one.

(John Ashbery, from Some Trees.)

boundary issues

Here in life, they would understand.
How could it be otherwise? We had groped too,
unwise, till the margin began to give way,
at which point all was sullen, or lost, or both.

Now it was time, and there was nothing for it.

We had a good meal, I and my friend,
slurping from the milk pail, grabbing at newer vegetables.
Yet life was a desert. Come home, in good faith.
You can still decide to. But it wanted warmth.
Otherwise ruse and subtlety would become impossible
in the few years or hours left to us. “Yes, but . . .”
The iconic beggars shuffled off     too. I told you,
once a breach emerges it will become a chasm
before anyone’s had a chance to waver. A dispute
on the far side of town erupts into a war
in no time at all, and ends as abruptly. The tendency to heal
sweeps all before it, into the arroyo, the mine shaft,
into whatever pocket you were contemplating. And the truly lost
make up for it. It’s always us that has to pay.

I have a suggestion to make: draw the sting out
as probingly as you please. Plaster the windows over
with wood pulp against the noon gloom proposing its enigmas,
its elixirs. Banish truth-telling.
That’s the whole point, as I understand it.
Each new investigation rebuilds the urgency,
like a sand rampart. And further reflection undermines it,
causing its eventual collapse. We could see all that
from a distance, as on a curving abacus, in urgency mode
from day one, but by then dispatches hardly mattered.
It was camaraderie, or something like it, that did,
poring over us like we were papyri, hoping to find one
correct attitude sketched on the gaslit air, night’s friendly takeover.

(John Ashbery, in Poetry, March 2009.)

alcove

Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, ‘mugwump
of the final hour’, lest an agenda – horrors! – be imputed to it,
and the whole point of its being spring collapse
like a hole dug in sand. It’s breathy, though,
you have to say that for it.

And should further seasons coagulate
into years, like spilled, dried paint, why,
who’s to say we weren’t provident? We indeed
looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.

(John Ashbery, p. 33 in the 20 November 2008 London Review of Books.)