Friday poem: Wakefulness

22 01 2010

I am wary of John Ashbery.

I used to distrust him entirely, consigning him to the word-babblers entirely too self-pleased with their speech. Watch me play this game! Watch! Are you looking?

Paugh. You’re a grown man, and you’re trying to impress with how pretty you can be?

But then he changed or I changed or he and I changed and I was willing to see or could finally see the meaning behind the theatre.

I’m still hawkish when I read his poems, ever on the lookout for mere cleverness, but now I notice how he keeps his conditionals under control, moves things along with hard verbs and nouns.

I used a few of the ending lines from the following poem to open a chapter of my dissertation. It wasn’t bad, the dissertation, but not great, either, stuffed as it was with Arendt and Foucault and Heidegger, and charged with pleasing the committee with my speech.

Still, it had its moments, as does Ashbery. This is one to remember.


An immodest little white wine, some scattered seraphs,
recollections of the Fall—tell me,
has anyone made a spongier representation, chased
fewer demons out of the parking lot
where we all held hands?

Little by little the idea of the true way returned to me.
I was touched by your care,
reduced to fawning excuses.
Everything was spotless in the little house of our desire,
the clock ticked on and on, happy about
being apprenticed to eternity. A gavotte of dust motes
came to replace my seeing. Everything was as though
it had happened long ago
in ancient peach-colored funny papers
wherein the law of true opposites was ordained
casually. Then the book opened by itself
and read to us: “You pack of liars,
of course tempted by the crossroads, but I like each
and every one of you with a peculiar sapphire intensity.
Look, here is where I failed at first.
The client leaves. History natters on,
rolling distractedly on these shores. Each day, dawn
condenses like a very large star, bakes no bread,
shoes the faithless. How convenient if it’s a dream.”

In the next sleep car was madness.
An urgent languor installed itself
as far as the cabbage-hemmed horizons. And if I put a little
bit of myself in this time, stoppered the liquor that is our selves’
truant exchanges, brandished my intentions
for once? But only I get
something out of this memory.
A kindly gnome
of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all
been instructed
to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here, it
seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter
how you twist it,
life stays frozen in the headlights.
Funny, none of us heard the roar.