April Galleonsby John Ashbery
In this collection, first published in 1987, John Ashbery--"one of his generation's most gifted and eloquent poets" (Michuko Kakutani, The New York Times)--offers some of his most intimate and direct poems. With breathtaking freshness, he writes of mutability, of the passage of time, and of growth, decay, and death as they are reflected in both ourselves and/i>… See more details below
In this collection, first published in 1987, John Ashbery--"one of his generation's most gifted and eloquent poets" (Michuko Kakutani, The New York Times)--offers some of his most intimate and direct poems. With breathtaking freshness, he writes of mutability, of the passage of time, and of growth, decay, and death as they are reflected in both ourselves and the changing of the seasons. By turns playful, melancholy, and mysterious, the poems in April Galleons reaffirm the extraordinary powers that have made Ashbery such a significant figure in the American literary landscape.
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By John Ashbery
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 John Ashbery
All rights reserved.
Ages passed slowly, like a load of hay,
As the flowers recited their lines
And pike stirred at the bottom of the pond.
The pen was cool to the touch.
The staircase swept upward
Through fragmented garlands, keeping the melancholy
Already distilled in letters of the alphabet.
It would be time for winter now, its spun-sugar
Palaces and also lines of care
At the mouth, pink smudges on the forehead and cheeks,
The color once known as "ashes of roses."
How many snakes and lizards shed their skins
For time to be passing on like this,
Sinking deeper in the sand as it wound toward
The conclusion. It had all been working so well and now,
Well, it just kind of came apart in the hand
As a change is voiced, sharp
As a fishhook in the throat, and decorative tears flowed
Past us into a basin called infinity.
There was no charge for anything, the gates
Had been left open intentionally.
Don't follow, you can have whatever it is.
And in some room someone examines his youth,
Finds it dry and hollow, porous to the touch.
O keep me with you, unless the outdoors
Embraces both of us, unites us, unless
The birdcatchers put away their twigs,
The fishermen haul in their sleek empty nets
And others become part of the immense crowd
Around this bonfire, a situation
That has come to mean us to us, and the crying
In the leaves is saved, the last silver drops.
Rainy days are best,
There is some permanence in the angle
That things make with the ground;
In not taking off after apologies.
The speedometer's at sundown.
Even as they spoke the sun was beginning to disappear behind a cloud.
All right so it's better to have vague outlines
But wrapped, tightly, around one's mood
Of something like vengeful joy. And in the wood
It's all the same too.
I think I liked you better when I seldom knew you.
But lovers are like hermits or cats: they
Don't know when to come in, to stop
Breaking off twigs for dinner.
In the little station I waited for you
And shall, what with all the interest
I bear toward plans of yours and the future
Of stars it makes me thirsty
Just to go down on my knees looking
In the sawdust for joy.
June and the nippers will scarcely look our way.
And be bold then it's then
This cloud imagines us and all that our story
Was ever going to be, and we catch up
To ourselves, but they are the selves of others.
And with it all the city starts to live
As a place where one can believe in moving
To a particular name and be there, and then
It's more action falling back refreshed into death.
We can survive the storms, wearing us
Like rainbow hats, afraid to retrace steps
To the past that was only recently ours,
Afraid of finding a party there.
O in all your life were you ever teased
Like this, and it became your mind?
Where still some saunter on the bank in mixed
Plum shade and weary sun, resigned
To the installations on the opposite bank, we mix
Breathless greetings and tears and lately taste
The precious supplies.
And the storm reestablished itself
As a hole in the sheet of time
And of the weariness of the world,
And all the old work that remains to be done on its surface.
Came morning and the husband was back on the shore
To ask another favor of the fish,
Leviathan now, patience wearing thin. Whose answer
Bubbled out of the waves' crenellations:
"Too late! Yet if you analyze
The abstract good fortune that has brought you
To this floor, you must also unpluck the bees
Immured in the hive of your mind and bring the nuisance
And the glory into sharper focus. Why,
Others too will have implored before forgetting
To remove a stick of night from the scrub-forest
That keeps us wondering about ourselves
Until luck or nepotism has run its course! Only I say,
Your uniqueness isn't that unique
And doors must close in the shaved head
Before they can spring ajar. Take this.
Its promise equals power." To be shaken thus
Vehemently back into one's trance doesn't promise
Any petitioner much, even the servile ones. But night in its singleness
Of motive rewards all equally for what cannot
Appear disinterested survival tactics from the vantage
Point of some rival planet. Things go on being the same,
As darkness and ships ruffle the sky.
A Snowball in Hell
In the beginning there are those who don't quite fit in
But are somehow okay. And then some morning
There are places that suddenly seem wonderful:
Weather and water seem wonderful,
And the peaceful night sky that arrives
In time to protect us, like a sword
Cutting the blue cloak of a prince.
But one night the door opened
And there was nothing to say, the relationships
Had gotten strangely tilted, like price tags.
That girl you loved, that former patient of mine,
Arrives soused on a Monday
After the crunch it seems.
Please play this back. All the recording
In the world won't help unless you or someone else listens
At some point in time to what the mountain
Is helplessly trying to tell us, season
After season, whose streams roar fatally
In and out of one chapter in our lives.
The book was a present.
Best to throw it away, to the bottom
Of the sea where ingenuous fish may read it
Or not. A little striving here,
Some relaxation there, and no one will know the difference.
Oh, but what you said about the season—
Is it dull, or exhausting, or has it left
And will be right back with something truly splendid
For us, for once in a lifetime?
Dreams of Adulthood
Why does he do it like that say it like that you might ask
Dream it like that over landscapes spotted with cream and vehement
Holes in the ground that have become little lakes, now that the chill and ardor
Of winter are passing into the real thing, where we shall be obliged
To survive? That there is a precise, preordained structure
That has been turned inside out to meet new personal needs
And attract newer bonuses isn't the reply, it's the solution,
Read, the asking, so while this helps, doesn't hinder, its persona
Is off running parallel somewhere: monitorable, but that's about it.
And we see the cries of the innocent how they were coming to help
Us in the storehouse and recruit all that bad knowledge so as to save it
For brighter purposes some day. Alas, these good gestures can't help;
What is needed is a disparate account of the thing happening just now,
To have it sink finally into print, from which there is no escape, no
Never, it all just gets gradually lost for the betterment of humankind.
Think how if there were no toys, we might grow up repeating these encounters
With actual people, and how, much later, seriousness would get destroyed
And incorporated into the record, like sand into concrete.
And the long taffylike ribbon that oozes so perfectly
Telling us much about ourselves and those outside us and like us
Would reach its resting place in the desert sump sooner for that:
The Lake Havasu City of our dreams where London Bridge eyes the sands
Nervously, and vice versa. No, there's no shortcut to being overcharged,
And if one wants to become a diamond eventually it isn't too early
To begin thinking about it, no, to begin thinking about it right now
Before storks are actually to be observed standing on chimneys, cruelly one-legged,
And the tarmac of one season is brought in, brushed off and saved
For any other season: for all consequences to be minded.
My name is Steve she said my name is Brian
My pretty baa-lambs each have names just like everything else upon earth,
Proper names, I mean. This way we are allowed to recognize species
From itinerant examples of them: "Hi, my name's Joe,"
And one is instantly plugged in to the mountains of possibility
That can only refresh us if we know about how to go about letting them:
In quiet, in dove-gray silence
Where the rescuers' tools are far, far richer than they were before.
Even ghost stories are fairly prevalent, and about to be believed.
Why not, after all, with so much variation,
Such mutability in the recounting of it? Yet soon, of course,
All are bound into a uniform edition, one can't be redeemed
By any of it anymore, only darkness and truth can do that now:
The woods where we used to wander, fumbling for carob,
The Johannisbrot that nourished that saint in his solitude
And then came to be the food for a whole kind of being that
Still outruns us courteously, we think, what a riot of showmanship
And actual produce reimburses us now, and how we have come to be
Improved by it. You should know never to ask questions, they'll
Slap you mildly on the wrists for it, but meanwhile in your reading
You'll have the sufficient answer for why it came to be this way.
And though one might complain about certain aspects, the long fond fugue
In which one will come to observe oneself being enveloped has answers
For much else besides as it teases us over the hill into eternity
Like the Duke of York's men and then marches us back down the same
Slope with the daisies you are meant to notice. Sure was pretty
Close back there, I got scared, didn't you? The feeling that something
Enormous, like a huge canvas, is happening without one's having the
Least suspicion, without one single scrap of information being vouchsafed?
How can you live with that, even for a few years or so, they go by so fast
In patches or clusters, so that on a certain day of reckoning, not the one,
Every available jug or receptacle will be seen to be full to overflowing,
Not with anything useful, just the same old stuff of imaginative
Speculation as it was before and still is, unfortunately. These wisps, I
Guess I'll save them for a while. They'll need me, don't you think?
A Mood of Quiet Beauty
The evening light was like honey in the trees
When you left me and walked to the end of the street
Where the sunset abruptly ended.
The wedding-cake drawbridge lowered itself
To the fragile forget-me-not flower.
You climbed aboard.
Burnt horizons suddenly paved with golden stones,
Dreams I had, including suicide,
Puff out the hot-air balloon now.
It is bursting, it is about to burst
With something invisible
Just during the days.
We hear, and sometimes learn,
Pressing so close
And fetch the blood down, and things like that.
Museums then became generous, they live in our breath.
When half the time they don't
know themselves ...
Old cathedrals, old markets, good and firm things
And old streets, one always feels intercepted
As they walk quickly past, no nonsense, cabbages
And turnips, the way they get put into songs:
One needn't feel offended
Or shut out just because the slow purpose
Under it is evident,
Because someone is simply there.
Yet it's a relief to look up
To the moist, imprecise sky,
Thrashing about in loneliness,
There has to be a heart to this.
The words are there already.
Just because the river looks like it's flowing backwards
Doesn't mean that motion doesn't mean something,
That it's incorrect as a metaphor.
And the way stones sink,
Doesn't rob them of the dignity
Of their cantankerous gravity.
They are what they are and what they seem.
Maybe our not getting closer to them
Puts some kind of shine on us
We didn't consent to,
As though we were someone's car:
Large, animated, calm.
Let's try the ingenuous mode, if for no better
Reason than its staying power: locked into a continuum
That rises and falls with the contours of this earth,
Inhabiting a Tom Tiddler's ground of special pleading
And cash-and-carry. Long lines at the checkout counter
Are a reason to behave, sad and dramatic, silhouetted
Against the tidal wave. For what must be, must be,
The old priest said, his face a maze
Of claw-prints in the snow
Which always arrives in time to antagonize
Or humor, before bedtime, it's your choice.
And suddenly outlines unlock
The forms they were sequestering, just to make it simple
Ah, but all fakes aren't alike.
I think we must settle for the big thing
Since quality, though a matter of survival,
Is such a personal call. Sometimes it's nowhere at all
Or a faint girl will make light of it, saying
In the sprockets in the backwoods there are no noticeable
Standards, nothing to judge one or be judged by.
It's true the refreshing absence of color
Produces an effect like that of time;
That you may be running through thistles one moment
And across a sheet of thin ice the next and not be aware
Of any difference, only that you have been granted an extension.
Make sure you clean up this mess. Other than that,
Listening to widely spaced catcalls is OK
The livelong day, and sleep isn't rationed.
Yet one can only question how the system arose,
Creating itself, I suppose,
Since nothing else has yet taken the responsibility.
If it makes you happier to feel, to see the horror
Of living one's life alone for something, what the heck,
Be my guest, it takes two to tango
After all, or something, doesn't it?
And you get right back on that conveyor belt
Of dreams to tip the scale modestly
Into your own enterprise, nest egg, portfolio
Of standard greetings and uncommon manners.
The ending can't take the blame.
It read like the cubist diary of a brook
That sidled past the house one day
On its way to a rendezvous with some river
We can never cross twice. And the gradual
Escalation lay nearby: we cannot call it back
Yet may meet it again, in other times, under different auspices.
O Mary, go and call the cattle home
For I'm sick in my heart and fain would lie down.
As if that wasn't enough, I find this bundle of pain
Left on my doorstep, with a note: "Please raise it as your own."
I don't know. When it grows up will it be like the others,
Able to join in their games, or is it the new person,
As yet indescribable, though existing here and there?
Our caution can't make any sense to it. Meanwhile it erases us
In coming to be what can't possibly be for the time being,
This time we take in and lavish so much affection on
It starts to Like us, changeling though it be, and sees
Some point in the way we were made. Death
Always intervenes at that moment, waking avenues
That radiate from the heart of a city whose suburbs
Are its uneasy existence. Put another way, the continual stirring
That we come to recognize as life merely acts blindly,
In pursuit of small, selfish goals, but the repercussions
Are enormous though they concern no one. Growing chooses this way
To happen, doesn't mind if a few toes get stepped on,
Though it would hardly have wished things to turn out like this
If it had thought about it for a moment. But it can't—I mean
That's what it is, a sigh of a sleeping giantess
That causes turbulence even in the shy, still unused fields
Stacked to the horizon, not even waiting, secure
In their inertia. A force erupting so violently
We can't witness any of it. Best to leave it alone
And start it all over again, if there's a beginning.
The stalk is withered dry, my love, so will our hearts decay.
Unless we omitted something. And we did. It'll cure it.
It will have to. But I can't whisper that story yet.
Excerpted from April Galleons by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1987 John Ashbery. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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