the decline of the west

O Oswald, O Spengler, this is very sad to find!
My attic, my children
ignore me for the violet-banded sky.
There are no clean platters in the cupboard
and the milkman’s horse tiptoes by, as though
afraid to wake us.

What! Our culture in its dotage!
Yet this very poem refutes it,
springing up out of the collective unconscious
like a weasel through a grating.
I could point to other extremities, both on land
and at sea, where the waves will gnash your stark theories
like a person eating a peanut. Say, though,
that we are not exceptional,
that, like the curve of a breast above a bodice,
our parabolas seek and find the light, returning
from not too far away. Ditto the hours
we’ve squandered: daisies, coins of light.

In the end he hammered out
what it was not wanted we should know.
For that we should be grateful,
and for that patch of a red ridinghood
caught in brambles against the snow.

His book, I saw it somewhere and I bought it.
I never read it for it seemed too long.
His theory though, I fought it
though it spritzes my song,
and now the skateboard stops
impeccably. We are where we exchanged
positions. O who could taste the crust of this love?

(John Ashbery, from And the Stars Were Shining.)

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