POETRY: Three Poems Of John Ashbery

The Pursuit of Happiness

It came about that there was no way of passing
Between the twin partitions that presented
A unified façade, that of a suburban shopping mall
In April. One turned, as one does, to other interests

Such as the tides in the Bay of Fundy. Meanwhile there was one
Who all unseen came creeping at this scale of visions
Like the gigantic specter of a cat towering over tiny mice
About to adjourn the town meeting due to the shadow,

An incisive shadow, too perfect in its outrageous
Regularity to be called to stand trial again,
That every blistered tongue welcomed as the first
Drops scattered by the west wind, and yet, knowing

That it would always ever afterwards be this way
Caused the eyes to faint, the ears to ignore warnings.
We knew how to get by on what comes along, but the idea
Warning, waiting there like a forest, not emptied, beckons.

Punishing the Myth

At first it came easily, with the knowledge of the shadow line
Picking its way through various landscapes before coming
To stand far from you, to bless you incidentally
In sorting out what was best for it, and most suitable,

Like snow having second thoughts and coming back
To be wary about this, to embellish that, as though life were a party
At which work got done. So we wiggled in our separate positions
And stayed in them for a time. After something has passed

You begin to see yourself as you would look to yourself on a stage,
Appearing to someone. But to whom? Ah, that’s just it,
To have the manners, and the look that comes from having a secret
Isn’t enough. But that “not enough” isn’t to be worn like a livery,

To be briefly noticed, yet among whom should it be seen? I haven’t
Thought about these things in years; that’s my luck.
In time even the rocks will grow. And if you have curled and dandled
Your innocence once too often, what attitude isn’t then really yours?

Paradoxes and Oxymorons

This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.
What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,
Bringing a system of them into play. Play?
Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be

A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,
As in the division of grace these long August days
Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know it
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.

It has been played once more. I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: