your name here poems

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Your Name Here
Poems
John Ashbery

For Pierre Martory

1920-1998

Contents

Publisher’s Note

This Room

If You Said You Would Come with Me

A Linnet

The Bobinski Brothers

Not You Again

Terminal

Merrily We Live

Brand Loyalty

Rain in the Soup

Bloodfits

Implicit Fog

Dream Sequence (Untitled)

What Is Written

Caravaggio and His Followers

Industrial Collage

Frogs and Gospels

Weekend

Get Me Rewrite

Invasive Procedures

Paperwork

The History of My Life

Toy Symphony

Memories of Imperialism

Strange Occupations

Full Tilt

The File on Thelma Jordan

Two for the Road

Heartache

The Fortune Cookie Crumbles

Onion Skin

Redeemed Area

Variations on “La Folia”

De Senectute

The Gods of Fairness

Who Knows What Constitutes a Life

Sacred and Profane Dances

Here We Go Looby

Avenue Mozart

Life Is a Dream

Vowels

Beverly of Graustark

The Pearl Fishers

They Don’t Just Go Away, Either

Conventional Wisdom

And Again, March is Almost Here

A Descent into the Maelstrom

Sonatine Mélancolique

Stanzas before Time

A Postcard from Pontevedra

A Suit

Crossroads in the Past

The Water Inspector

Cinéma Vérité

The Old House in the Country

Autumn Basement

Hang-Up Call

Lost Profile

How Dangerous

Humble Pie

More Hocketing

Amnesia Goes to the Ball

Railroaded

Honored Guest

Our Leader is Dreaming

Last Legs

Lemurs and Pharisees

The Underwriters

Pale Siblings

Nobody Is Going Anywhere

Poem on Several Occasions

Slumberer

Pot Luck

Short-Term Memory

Vendanges

Small City

Vintage Masquerade

To Good People Who Should Be Going Somewhere Else

Another Aardvark

Has to Be Somewhere

The Don’s Bequest

Strange Cinema

A Star Belched

When Pressed

The Impure

Crowd Conditions

Enjoys Watching Foreign Films

Fade In

Over at the Mutts’

Pastilles for the Voyage

Of the Light

Your Name Here

About the Author

Publisher’s Note

Long before they were ever written down, poems were organized in lines. Since the invention of the printing press, readers have become increasingly conscious of looking at poems, rather than hearing them, but the function of the poetic line remains primarily sonic. Whether a poem is written in meter or in free verse, the lines introduce some kind of pattern into the ongoing syntax of the poem’s sentences; the lines make us experience those sentences differently. Reading a prose poem, we feel the strategic absence of line.

But precisely because we’ve become so used to looking at poems, the function of line can be hard to describe. As James Longenbach writes in
The Art of the Poetic Line
, “Line has no identity except in relation to other elements in the poem, especially the syntax of the poem’s sentences. It is not an abstract concept, and its qualities cannot be described generally or schematically. It cannot be associated reliably with the way we speak or breathe. Nor can its function be understood merely from its visual appearance on the page.” Printed books altered our relationship to poetry by allowing us to see the lines more readily. What new challenges do electronic reading devices pose?

In a printed book, the width of the page and the size of the type are fixed. Usually, because the page is wide enough and the type small enough, a line of poetry fits comfortably on the page: What you see is what you’re supposed to hear as a unit of sound. Sometimes, however, a long line may exceed the width of the page; the line continues, indented just below the beginning of the line. Readers of printed books have become accustomed to this convention, even if it may on some occasions seem ambiguous—particularly when some of the lines of a poem are already indented from the left-hand margin of the page.

But unlike a printed book, which is stable, an ebook is a shape-shifter. Electronic type may be reflowed across a galaxy of applications and interfaces, across a variety of screens, from phone to tablet to computer. And because the reader of an ebook is empowered to change the size of the type, a poem’s original lineation may seem to be altered in many different ways. As the size of the type increases, the likelihood of any given line running over increases.

Our typesetting standard for poetry is designed to register that when a line of poetry exceeds the width of the screen, the resulting run-over line should be indented, as it might be in a printed book. Take a look at John Ashbery’s “Disclaimer” as it appears in two different type sizes.

     

Each of these versions of the poem has the same number of lines: the number that Ashbery intended. But if you look at the second, third, and fifth lines of the second stanza in the right-hand version of “Disclaimer,” you’ll see the automatic indent; in the fifth line, for instance, the word
ahead
drops down and is indented. The automatic indent not only makes poems easier to read electronically; it also helps to retain the rhythmic shape of the line—the unit of sound—as the poet intended it. And to preserve the integrity of the line, words are never broken or hyphenated when the line must run over. Reading “Disclaimer” on the screen, you can be sure that the phrase “you pause before the little bridge, sigh, and turn ahead” is a complete line, while the phrase “you pause before the little bridge, sigh, and turn” is not.

Open Road has adopted an electronic typesetting standard for poetry that ensures the clearest possible marking of both line breaks and stanza breaks, while at the same time handling the built-in function for resizing and reflowing text that all ereading devices possess. The first step is the appropriate semantic markup of the text, in which the formal elements distinguishing a poem, including lines, stanzas, and degrees of indentation, are tagged. Next, a style sheet that reads these tags must be designed, so that the formal elements of the poems are always displayed consistently. For instance, the style sheet reads the tags marking lines that the author himself has indented; should that indented line exceed the character capacity of a screen, the run-over part of the line will be indented further, and all such runovers will look the same. This combination of appropriate coding choices and style sheets makes it easy to display poems with complex indentations, no matter if the lines are metered or free, end-stopped or enjambed.

Ultimately, there may be no way to account for every single variation in the way in which the lines of a poem are disposed visually on an electronic reading device, just as rare variations may challenge the conventions of the printed page, but with rigorous quality assessment and scrupulous proofreading, nearly every poem can be set electronically in accordance with its author’s intention. And in some regards, electronic typesetting increases our capacity to transcribe a poem accurately: In a printed book, there may be no way to distinguish a stanza break from a page break, but with an ereader, one has only to resize the text in question to discover if a break at the bottom of a page is intentional or accidental.

Our goal in bringing out poetry in fully reflowable digital editions is to honor the sanctity of line and stanza as meticulously as possible—to allow readers to feel assured that the way the lines appear on the screen is an accurate embodiment of the way the author wants the lines to sound. Ever since poems began to be written down, the manner in which they ought to be written down has seemed equivocal; ambiguities have always resulted. By taking advantage of the technologies available in our time, our goal is to deliver the most satisfying reading experience possible.

THIS ROOM

The room I entered was a dream of this room.

Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.

The oval portrait

of a dog was me at an early age.

Something shimmers, something is hushed up.

We had macaroni for lunch every day

except Sunday, when a small quail was induced

to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?

You are not even here.

IF YOU SAID YOU WOULD COME WITH ME

In town it was very urban but in the country cows were covering the hills. The clouds were near and very moist. I was walking along the pavement with Anna, enjoying the scattered scenery. Suddenly a sound like a deep bell came from behind us. We both turned to look. “It’s the words you spoke in the past, coming back to haunt you,” Anna explained. “They always do, you know.”

Indeed I did. Many times this deep bell-like tone had intruded itself on my thoughts, scrambling them at first, then rearranging them in apple-pie order. “Two crows,” the voice seemed to say, “were sitting on a sundial in the God-given sunlight. Then one flew away.”

“Yes ...
and then?”
I wanted to ask, but I kept silent. We turned into a courtyard and walked up several flights of stairs to the roof, where a party was in progress. “This is my friend Hans,” Anna said by way of introduction. No one paid much attention and several guests moved away to the balustrade to admire the view of orchards and vineyards, approaching their autumn glory. One of the women however came to greet us in a friendly manner. I was wondering if this was a “harvest home,” a phrase I had often heard but never understood.

“Welcome to my home ... well, to our home,” the woman said gaily. “As you can see, the grapes are being harvested.” It seemed she could read my mind. “They say this year’s vintage will be a mediocre one, but the sight is lovely, nonetheless. Don’t you agree, Mr. ...”

“Hans,” I replied curtly. The prospect was indeed a lovely one, but I wanted to leave. Making some excuse I guided Anna by the elbow toward the stairs and we left.

“That wasn’t polite of you,” she said dryly.

“Honey, I’ve had enough of people who can read your mind. When I want it done I’ll go to a mind reader.”

“I happen to be one and I can tell you what you’re thinking is false. Listen to what the big bell says: ‘We are all strangers on our own turf, in our own time.’ You should have paid attention. Now adjustments will have to be made.”

A LINNET

It crossed the road so as to avoid having to greet me. “Poor thing but mine own,” I said, “without a song the day would never end.” Warily the thing approached. I pitied its stupidity so much that huge tears began to well up in my eyes, falling to the hard ground with a plop. “I don’t need a welcome like that,” it said. “I was ready for you. All the ladybugs and the buzzing flies and the alligators know about you and your tricks. Poor, cheap thing. Go away, and take your song with you.”

Night had fallen without my realizing it. Several hours must have passed while I stood there, mulling the grass and possible replies to the hapless creature. A mason still stood at the top of a ladder repairing the tiles in a roof, by the light of the moon. But there was no moon. Yet I could see his armpits, hair gushing from them, and the tricks of the trade with which he was so bent on fixing that wall.

THE BOBINSKI BROTHERS

“Her name is Liz, and I need her in my biz,” I hummed wantonly. A band of clouds all slanted in the same direction drifted across the hairline horizon like a tribe of adults and children, all hastening toward some unknown destination. A crisp pounding. Done to your mother what? Are now the ... And so you understand it, she ... I. Once you get past the moralizing a new winter twilight creeps into place. And a lot of guys just kind of live through it? Ossified soup, mortised sloop. Woody has the staff to do nothing. You never know what. That’s what I think. Like two notes of music we slid apart, far from one another’s protective jealousy. The old cat, sunning herself, had no problem with that. Nor did the diaphanous trains of fairies that sagged down from a sky that suggested they had never been anywhere, least of all there. At the time we had a good laugh over it. But it did hurt. It still does. That’s what I think, he slapped.

NOT YOU AGAIN

Thought I’d write you this poem. Yes,

I know you don’t need it. No,

you don’t have to thank me for it. Just

want to kind of get it off my chest

and drop it in the peanut dust.

You came at me and that was something.

I was more than a match for you, you

were a match for me, we undid the clasps

in our shirtings, it was a semblance of all right.

Then the untimely muse got wind of it.

Picked it up, hauled it over there.

The bandy-legged man was watching

all this time. “... to have Betty back on board.”

Now it’s time for love-twenty.

Assume your places on the shuffleboard.

You, Sam, must make a purple prayer

out of origami and stuff it. If you’ve

puked it’s already too late.

I see all behind me small canyons, drifting,

filling up with the space of drifting.

The chair in the attic is up to no good.

Then you took me and held me like I was a child

or a prize. For a moment there I thought I knew you,

but you backed away, wiping your specs, “Oh,

excuse ...” It’s okay,

will come another time

when stupendous seabirds are carilloning out over the Atlantic,

when the charging fire engine adjusts its orange petticoats

after knocking down the old man the girl picks up.

Now it’s too late, the books are closed, the salmon

no longer spewing. Just so you know.

TERMINAL

Didn’t you get my card?

We none of us, you see, knew we were coming

until the bus was actually pulling out of the terminal.

I gazed a little sadly at the rubber of my shoes’

soles, finding it wanting.

I got kind of frenzied after the waiting

had stopped, but now am cool as a suburban garden

in some lost city. When it came time for my speech

I could think of nothing, of course.

I gave a little talk about the onion—how its flavor

inspires us, its shape informs our architecture.

There were so many other things I wanted to say, too,

but, dandified, I couldn’t strut,

couldn’t sit down for all the spit and polish.

Now it’s your turn to say something about the wall

in the garden. It can be anything.

MERRILY WE LIVE

Sometimes the drums would actually let us play

between beats, and that was nice. Before closing time.

By then the clown’s anus

would get all chewed up by the donkey

that hated having a tail pinned on it,

which was perhaps understandable. The three-legged midgets

ran around, they enjoyed hearing us play so much,

and the saxophone had something to say

about all this, but only to itself.

Clusters of pollen blot out the magnolia blossoms this year

and that’s about all there is to it. Like I said,

it’s pretty much like last year, except for Brooke.

She was determined to get a job in the city. When last heard from

she had found one, playing a sonata of Beethoven’s (one

of the easier ones) in the window of a department store

downtown somewhere, and then that closed, the whole city did,

tighter’n a drum. So we have only our trapezoidal reflections

to look at in its blue glass sides, and perhaps admire—

oh, why can’t this be some other day? The children all came over

(we thought they were midgets at first) and wanted

to be told stories to, but mostly to be held.

John I think did the right thing by shoveling them under the carpet.

And then there were the loose wickets

after the storm, and that made croquet impossible.

Hailstones the size of medicine balls were rolling down the slope anyway

right toward our doorstep. Most of them melted before they got there, but one,

a particularly noxious one, actually got in the house and left its smell,

a smell of violets, in fact, all over the hall carpet,

which didn’t cancel one’s rage at breaking and entering,

of all crimes the most serious, don’t you fear?

I’ve got to finish this. Father will be after me.

Oh, and did the red rubber balls ever arrive? We could do something

with them, I just have to figure out what.

Today a stoat came to tea

and that was so nice it almost made me cry—

look, the tears in the mirror are still streaming down my face

as if there were no tomorrow. But there is one, I fear,

a nice big one. Well, so long,

and don’t touch any breasts, at least until I get there.

BRAND LOYALTY

“Father, you’re destroying the collectibles!”

“You are mistaken. I’m enjoying them! The green magenta finish on this one reminds me of the piano shawl in our flat in Harbin—only greener, as though slits of light were coming through its slits.”

“At least we have the lilacs.”

How he would get a little too creative, God and I both know. He’s spent the morning chiding the waterspout, clearly amazed as it drew increasingly closer. “I’ve had it with natural phenomena. They never know when to draw the line. At least we have some sense, and we’re natural phenomena too, for goodness sakes.”

I wouldn’t let it get to me. On the other hand, the waterspout or whatever you call it
is
getting to us. It touched down, back there, and only a moment ago it was in front of us. I suggest we sidle along the sand.

The deuce you say! On the other hand, if you really think so.

We could offer it tea and cookies, but in a moment it’ll be too late for anything but palsied brooding on the tired theme of retribution. Like I said, they build them stronger and stronger until it’s encoded in them. They can’t help putting their best foot forward, and where does that leave us! After all, a little peace was all we were after.

If only you’d read up on the subject like you said you were going to.

Yes, well we can’t alarm our surroundings too much, even as they torture us. That way we’d only slip out of pain and not see the exciting denouement. And what a sweet-tempered morning it was. Put aside our notions of the intrepid, the universe is paying a courtesy call, God has us on hold, and there’s not much we can do except spin like dervishes, human tops. Hair climbing upward to a point, a kind of spire, and all I’d done was brush down the sides.

Can we do it that way now?

Not exactly. The village is walking toward us, we are becoming its walls and graffiti-sprayed cement bathrooms, its general store, the tipsy taxi driver. If I told you where we were going it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore, and yet it would ...

Sounds like my friend Casper, the girl said.

RAIN IN THE SOUP

Raindrops fall on the treetops. A rainy day.

Yes, it’s that kind of a day. Some human suffering.

A number of malcontents. If Mr. Soup

will stay in his bowl, I’ll blow on him.

Elsewhere stockings are being darned.

The darning egg is as big as a house.

All this less-than-great happiness

may be doing good to life somewhere else,

off in the bayou. Maybe. But we see it

from the top, like a triangular dome,

so it looks okay to us.

Unicyclists are out in force,

leading to the Next Interesting Thing

that’s sure to be gone by the time you and I get there.

I don’t count ivy climbing a chimney,

that’s reached the top and is waving around, senselessly.

I’d like to push a raft down the beach,

wade into the water waist-deep, and get on it.

But clearly, nothing in this world was made for me.

It’s sixes and sevens, the chimes go out

into the city and accomplish something valid.

I can stand to stand here, standing it, that’s all.

Good day Mrs. Smith. Your daughter is as cute as anything.

BLOODFITS

As inevitable as a barking dog, second-hand music

drifts down five flights of stairs and out into the street,

adjusting seams, checking makeup in pocket mirror.

Inside the camera obscura, jovial as ever,

dentists make all the money. I didn’t know that then.

Children came out to tell me, in measured tones,

how cheap the seaside is, how the salt air reddens cheeks.

Violently dented by storms, the new silhouettes

last only a few washings.

Put your glasses on and read the label. Hold that bat.

He’d sooner break rank than wind.

He’s bought himself a shirt the color of Sam Rayburn Lake,

muddled ocher by stumps and land practices. Picnicking prisoners

never fail to enjoy the musk that drifts off it

in ever-thickening waves,

triggering bloody nostalgia

for a hypotenuse that never was.

IMPLICIT FOG

We began adulating

what we were staring at

too:

I was following the paths in the music.

Might as well have been patting myself dry

under a toadstool.

Winter came on neck and neck

with spring, somehow.

The two got tangled up for reasons

best known to themselves.

By the time it was over

summer had ended

with a quiet, driven day

out under the trees

in folding chairs:

troops ejected from a local bar.

It got lovely and then a little hirsute.

DREAM SEQUENCE (UNTITLED)

Yes, she chopped down a big tree.

We could all breathe easier again.

It wasn’t the hole in the landscape

that gladdened us, it was the invitation to the weather

to drop in anytime.

Which it did, in proportion to our not growing interested in it.

After a third mishap we decided

to throw in meaning. No dice.

Our tapestry still kept on reviving itself

athwart the scary shore. You could look into it

and see fog that had been dead for years,

cheerful hellos uttered centuries ago.

Worse, we were going somewhere;

this was no longer the bush leagues, but a cantata

nature had ordered from the celestial caterer,

and now it was being delivered.

There were only a few false notes; these mattered less

than a cat in a cathedral. Suddenly we were all singing

our diaries of vengeance, or fawning thank-you notes, or whatever.

The hotel billed us by the hour

but for some reason the telegraph wires weren’t included

in the final reckoning. Too, the water-tower had disappeared

as though deleted by a child’s blue eraser.

It was then that the nets of chiming

explained what we had needed to know years ago:

that a step in the wrong direction is the keyhole

to today’s busy horizon, like hay, that seems to know where it’s moving when it’s moving.

WHAT IS WRITTEN

What is written on the paper

on the table by the bed? Is there something there

or was that from another last night?

Why is that bird ignoring us,

pausing in mid-flight, to take another direction?

Is it feelings of guilt about the spool

it dropped on the bank of a stream,

into which it eventually rolled? Dark spool,

moving oceanward now—what other fate could have been yours?

You could have lived in a drawer

for many years, imprisoned, a ward of the state. Now you are free

to call the shots pretty much as they come.

Poor, bald thing.

CARAVAGGIO AND HIS FOLLOWERS

You are my most favorite artist. Though I know

very little about your work. Some of your followers I know:

Mattia Preti, who toiled so hard to so little

effect (though it was enough). Luca Giordano, involved

with some of the darkest reds ever painted, and lucent greens,

thought he had discovered the secret of the foxgloves.

But it was too late. They had already disappeared

because they had been planted in some other place.

Someone sent some bread up

along with a flask of wine, to cheer him up,

but the old, old secret of the foxgloves, never

to be divined, won’t ever go away.

I say, if you were toting hay up the side of a stack

of it, that might be Italian. Or then again, not.

We have these things in Iowa,

too, and in the untrained reaches of the eyelid

hung out, at evening, over next to nothing. What was it she had said,

back there, at the beginning? “The flowers

of the lady next door are beginning to take flight,

and what will poor Robin do then?” It’s true, they were blasting off

every two seconds like missiles from a launching pad, and nobody wept, or even cared.

Look out of the window, sometime, though, and you’ll see

where the difference has been made. The song of the shrubbery

can’t drown out the mystery of what we are made of,

of how we go along, first interested by one thing and then another

until we come to a wide avenue whose median

is crowded with trees whose madly peeling bark is the color of a roan,

perhaps, or an Irish setter. One can wait on the curb for the rest

of one’s life, for all anyone cares, or one can cross

when the light changes to green, as in the sapphire folds

of a shot-silk bodice Luca Giordano might have bothered with.

Now
it’s life. But, as Henny Penny said to Turkey Lurkey, something

is hovering over us, wanting to destroy us, but waiting,

though for what, nobody knows.

In the night of the museum, though, some whisper like stars

when the guards have gone home, talking freely to one another.

“Why did that man stare, and stare? All afternoon it seemed he stared

at me, though he obviously saw nothing. Only a fragment of a vision

of a lost love, next to a pool. I couldn’t deal with it

much longer, but luckily I didn’t have to. The experience

is ending. The time for standing to one side is near

now, very near.”

INDUSTRIAL COLLAGE

We are constantly running checks.

Quantity control is our concern here, you see.

No batch is allowed to leave the premises

without at least a superficial glance along the tops

of the crates. For who knows how much magic

may be imprisoned there?

Likewise, when the product reaches the market

we like to kind of keep an eye on things there too.

Complaints about the magic

have dwindled to a mere trickle in recent years.

Still you never know if some guy’s going to get funny

and tamper with the equation, causing

apocalyptic sighs to break out in the streets,

barking dogs, skidding vehicles, and the whole consignment

of ruthless consequences. That is why we keep a team of experts

on hand, always awake, alert for the slightest thread of disorder

on someone’s pants. In spring these incidents can double, quadruple, even.

Everything wants to be let out of its box come April or May

and we have to test-drive the final result before it’s been gummed

into the album dark farces regulate. Someone, then, must be constantly

on duty, as well as a relief contingent, for this starry mass

to continue revolving.

Like an apple on the ground

it looks at you. The neighborhood police were kind,

arrested a miscreant, though he was never brought to trial,

which is normal for this type of event.

Meanwhile spring edges inexorably into summer,

where, paradoxically, there is more activity but less to show for it.

The merry-go-rounds begin turning in the carnivals of August.

Best to leave prison till winter, once the honor system has broken down.

A stalemate could pollute new beginnings.

November tells it best, in a whisper almost,

so that there is surprisingly little letdown,

only this new background, a finer needle to thread.

FROGS AND GOSPELS

How does one interpret, on this late branch, the unexpected?

—James Tate, “The Horseshoe”

A chance balloon drew these settlers nigh.

It was the year of green honey that sprouts

between the toes of the seated god. “None

can explain it further.” No explanations,

not from me.

I sat in the bakery, rumpled, unshaved,

pondering a theorem. What you said the hotel was.

Someone else’s towel approached me in the laundry.

“Ouch was what I said.” This has been more than I know of,

brimming with indifference, some American in Europe.

He let me off at the corner of some strange country.

The signs were in English. No one cared if

you knew the rubbish was filth.

He carried me from the room in which people were sitting.

They always think they know better, even as they confess

their ignorance blindly, to the first stranger they know.

I see, it’s a market garden, or was

some seasons ago. In this dark stubble I abide.

A messenger came with tidings. I’m sorry,

I’ve had enough tidings.

Giddy with surprise, he crawled upward

toward where I was toasting myself.

A male muse I suppose. I’ve listened to that

before, too. All I want is to be let out

to travel on the gravel. You still don’t

get it, this is a seat. All right, I want my seat,

I said.

That’s no easy manner. The blond moon came untied,

drifted through blue-black wisps

of a woodpile somewhere. Must I follow her too?

Must I follow her too?

Whatever it says you must do.

You had calm days in store, now they have come undone.

Worries stretch before you into the distance.

Perhaps distance is what you had,

once, and must now drink. Only forty years ago

early skyscrapers arched their backs, waiting to be fed.

And still the feeling comes on.

WEEKEND

Swan filets and straw wine,

an emphatic look to the driveway

whose golf clubs are scattered feelingly.

You can undress and sit down

on the corduroy doormat blowing

and when the Weird Sisters come calling

pretend to be talking to yourself.

Trouble is they don’t come calling,

suffering as they do from terminal agoraphobia.

A frog juts from a pinecone.

My goodness was that you back there?

You sure know

how to give a feller a good scare.

I’d thought it was just bats

dripping tar on the heads of the guests and the footmen.

You see so little live action in this town

and then everybody wants to cooperate

or celebrate, sort of. I can do that too.

Always. Have a good time.

Something might come out in group therapy:

your velvet soul as I just realized it.

Please come back. I liked you so much.

Thistles, dandelions, what do we care?

GET ME REWRITE

The

ghoulish

resonance

of

a

cello

resonates in a neighbor’s cabana.

What do I know of this?

I

am

sitting

on a pile of dirt in a neighbor’s back yard.

Was there something else to do?

Long ago we crept for candy

through the neighbor’s gutter

but found only candy wrappers

of an unknown species: “Sycamores,”

“Chocolate Spit,” “Slate-Gray Fluids,”

“Anamorphic Portraits of Old Goriot.”

The way a piece of candy seems to flutter

in the prismatic light above a clothesline, stops,

removes all its clothes.

There was a bucket

of water

to wash in,

fingerposts pointing the way to the next phenomenon:

sugar falling gently on strawberries, snow on a pile of red eggs.

None of us was really satisfied,

but none of us wanted to go away, either.

The shadows of an industrial park loomed below us,

the brass sky above.

“Get off your duff,” Reuel commanded.

(He was our commander.)

“You are like the poet Lenz, who ran from house to forest

to rosy firmament and back

and nobody ever saw his legs move.”

Ah,

it is good

to be back

in the muck.

INVASIVE PROCEDURES

I flee from those who are gifted with understanding, fearing that all their great and illuminating invasions of my being still won’t satisfy me.

—Robert Walser, “The One of Fairy Tales”

Massachusetts rests its feet

in Rhode Island,

as crows rest in cowslips

and cows slip in crowshit.

I may have been called upon to write

a poem different from this one.

OK, let’s go. I want to please everybody

and this is my song:

In Beethoven Street I handed you a melon.

Round and pronged it was, and full of secret juice.

You, in turn, handed me over to the police

who thought (correctly) that I was the spy

they had been looking for these past seven months.

They led me down to their station, you need to know,

where they questioned me for days on end.

But my answers were always questions, and so they let me go,

exasperated by their inability to answer.

I was a free man!

I walked up Rilke Street

chattering a little hymn to myself.

It went something like this:

“Beware the monsters, but take care

that you are not yourself one.

Time is kind to them

and will take care of you,

asleep on your grandmother’s couch, sipping cherry juice.”

How did the pigs get through the window screens at night?

By morning it was all over.

I had never sung to you, you never coaxed me to

from your balcony, and all trains run into night

that collects them like paper streamers, and lays them in a drawer.

Unable to leave the sight of you

I draw little crow’s feet in my notebook, in the sunlight

that comes at the end of a sudden day of tears

waiting to be reconciled to the fascinating madness of the dark.

My mistress’ hands are nothing like these,

collecting silken cords for a day when the wet wind plunges

through colossal apertures.

Suddenly I was out of hope. I crawled out on the ledge.

The air there was frank and pure,

not like the frayed December night.

PAPERWORK

Waste time on these riddles?

Because what would I lecture on then?

The master that comes after, after all,

brushes them aside or burns them.

Am I therefore not very strong?

Will my arch be built, strung along the sand

within sight of olive trees? No,

I am cut of plainer cloth, but it dazzles me

in the evening by the moonlight.

L’heureuse,
they called her.

Day after day she gazed at the blue gazing globe

in her sunlit garden, saying nothing.

Noticing this, the old stump said nothing too.

Finally it couldn’t stand it any longer:

“Can’t you
be
something? You have the required manners

and your dress is a shifting of pea-green shot with sea-foam.”

I know I shall one day come to the reason

for manners and intercourse with persons.

Therefore I launch my hat on this peg.

Here, there are two of us. Take two.

Turning and turning in the demented sky,

the sugar-mill gushes forth poems and plainer twists.

It can’t account for the roses in our furnace.

A motherly chimp leads us away

to a table overflowing with silverware and crystal,

crystal smudgepots so the old man could see through tears:

He is the one you ought to have invited.

THE HISTORY OF MY LIFE

Once upon a time there were two brothers.

Then there was only one: myself.

I grew up fast, before learning to drive,

even. There was I: a stinking adult.

I thought of developing interests

someone might take an interest in. No soap.

I became very weepy for what had seemed

like the pleasant early years. As I aged