April Galleons

April Galleons

by John Ashbery

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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…  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.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
From unlikely beginnings (``Song of the Windshield Wiper,'' ``Alone in the Lumber Business,'' etc.) Ashbery's elusive, astonishingly inventive poems spring. In this first volume since Selected Poems ( LJ 1/86), his seamless style allows a rich assemblage of voices to move nimbly between high comedy and low, among fable, memory, and meditation. Youthful experience is contrasted with a life in late middle age`` . . . afraid to retrace steps/ To the past that was only recently ours,/. . . O in all your life were you ever teased/ Like this, and it became your mind?''and while change remains a major theme, life rather than art becomes central. Robert Hudzik, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Poets, Penguin Series
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

April Galleons

By John Ashbery


Copyright © 1987 John Ashbery
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5906-9



    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.

    Riddle Me

    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.

    Morning Jitters

    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,
    Inconsolable ...

    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,
    So gracefully,
    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.

    Adam Snow

    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
    And equal.

    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.

    Forgotten Song

    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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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