As One Put Drunk into the Packet Boat
I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free.
Elsewhere we are as sitting in a place where sunlight
Filters down, a little at a time,
Waiting for someone to come. Harsh words are spoken,
As the sun yellows the green of the maple tree…
So this was all, but obscurely
I felt the stirrings of new breath in the pages
Which all winter long had smelled like an old catalogue.
New sentences were starting up. But the summer
Was well along, not yet past the mid-point
But full and dark with the promise of that fullness,
That time when one can no longer wander away
And even the least attentive fall silent
To watch the thing that is prepared to happen.
A look of glass stops you
And you walk on shaken: was I the perceived?
Did they notice me, this time, as I am,
Or is it postponed again? The children
Still at their games, clouds that arise with a swift
Impatience in the afternoon sky, then dissipate
As limpid, dense twilight comes.
Only in that tooting of a horn
Down there, for a moment, I thought
The great, formal affair was beginning, orchestrated,
Its colors concentrated in a glance, a ballade
That takes in the whole world, now, but lightly,
Still lightly, but with wide authority and tact.
The prevalence of those gray flakes falling?
They are sun motes. You have slept in the sun
Longer than the sphinx, and are none the wiser of it.
Come in. And I thought a shadow fell across the door
But it was only her come to ask once more
If I was coming in, and not to hurry in case I wasn’t.
The night sheen takes over. A moon of cistercian pallor
Has climbed to the center of heaven, installed,
Finally involved with the business of darkness.
And a sigh heaves from all the small things on earth,
The books, the paper, the old garter and union-suit buttons
Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere, and all the lower
Versions of cities flattened under the equalizing night.
The summer demands and takes away too much,
But night, the reserved, the reticent, gives more than it takes.
Like a rainstorm, he said, the braided colors
Wash over me and are no help. Or like one
At a feast who eats not, for he cannot choose
From among the smoking dishes. This severed hand
Stands for life, and wander as it will,
East or west, north or south, it is ever
A stranger who walks beside me. O seasons,
Booths, chaleur, dark-hatted charlatans
On the outskirts of some rural fete,
The name you drop and never say is mine, mine!
Some day I’ll claim to you how all used up
I am because of you but in the meantime the ride
Continues. Everyone is along for the ride,
It seems. Besides, what else is there?
The annual games? True, there are occasions
For white uniforms and a special language
Kept secret from the others. The limes
Are duly sliced. I know all this
But can’t seem to keep it from affecting me,
Every day, all day. I’ve tried a recreation,
Reading until late at night, train rides
One day a man called while I was out
And left this message: «You got the whole thing wrong
From start to finish. Luckily, there’s still time
To correct the situation, but you must act fast.
See me at your earliest convenience. And please
Tell no one of this. Much besides your life depends on it.»
I thought nothing of it at a time. Lately
I’ve been looking at old-fashioned plaids, fingering
Starched white collars, wondering whether there’s a way
To get them really white again. My wife
Thinks I’m in Oslo—Oslo, France, that is.
On Autumn Lake
Leading liot act to foriage is activity
Of Chinese philosopher here on Autumn Lake thoughtfully inserted in
Plovince of Quebec—stop it! I will not. The edge hughs
The lake with ever-more-paternalistic insistence, whose effect
Is in the blue way up ahead. The distance
By air from other places to here isn’t much, but
It doesn’t count, at least not the way the
Shore distance—leaf, tree, stone; optional (fern, frog, skunk);
And then stone, tree, leaf; then another optional—counts.
It’s like the “machines” of the 19th-century Academy.
Turns out you didn’t need all that training
To do art—that it was even better not to have it. Look at
The Impressionists—some of’em had it, too, but preferred to forget it
In vast composed canvases by turns riotous
And indigent in color, from which only the notion of space is lacking.
I do not think that this
Will be my last trip to Autumn Lake
Have some friends among many severe heads
We all scholars sitting under tree
Waiting for nut to fall. Some of us stuying
Persian and Aramaic, others the art of distilling
Weird fragances out of nothing, from the ground up.
In each the potential is realized, the two wires
Autoretrat en un mirall convex (Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror). Girona: Llibres del Segle, 2019.
© John Ashbery.
Foto de Jaume Josa