Girls on the Run
By John Ashbery
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1999 John Ashbery
All rights reserved.
Girls on the Run (Continues...)
after Henry Darger
A great plane flew across the sun,
and the girls ran along the ground.
The sun shone on Mr. McPlaster's face, it was green like an elephant's.
Let's get out of here, Judy said.
They're getting closer, I can't stand it.
But you know, our fashions are in fashion
only briefly, then they go out
and stay that way for a long time. Then they come back in
for a while. Then, in maybe a million years, they go out of fashion
and stay there.
Laure and Tidbit agreed,
with the proviso that after that everyone would become fashion
again for a few hours. Write it now, Tidbit said,
before they get back. And, quivering, I took the pen.
Drink the beautiful tea
before you slop sewage over the horizon, the Principal directed.
OK, it's calm now, but it wasn't two minutes ago. What do you want me to do, said
I am no longer your serf,
and if I was I wouldn't do your bidding. That is enough, sir.
You think you can lord it over every last dish of oatmeal
on this planet, Henry said. But wait till my ambition
comes a cropper, whatever that means, or bursts into feathered bloom
and burns on the shore. Then the kiddies dancing sidewise
declared it a treat, and the ice-cream gnomes slurped their last that day.
Inside, in the twilit nest of evening,
something was coming undone. Dimples could feel it,
surging over her shoulder like a wave of energy. And then—
it was gone. No one had witnessed it but herself.
And so Dimples took off for the city, which was near and wholesome.
There, with her sister Larissa, she planned the big blue boat
that future generations will live in, and thank us for. It twitched
at its steely moorings, and seemed to say: Live, like life, with me.
Let the birds wash over them, Laure said, for what use are earmuffs
in a snowstorm, except to call attention to distant tots
who have strayed. And now the big Mother warms them,
accepts them, for the nervous predicates they are. Far from the beach-fiend's
howling, their adventure nurses itself back
to something like health. On the fifth day it takes a little blancmange
and stands up, only to fall back into a hammock.
I told you it was coming, cried Dimples, but look out,
Another big one is on the way!
And they all ran, and got out, and that was that for that day.
Hungeringly, Tidbit approached the crone who held the bowl,
... drank the honey. It had good things about it.
Now, pretty as a moment,
Tidbit's housecoat sniffed the undecipherable,
the knowable past. They were anxious
to get back to work. Diane was looking relaxed.
Then, some say, Pete said
it was the afternoon backing up again, inexorable
with dreams, looking for garbage to pick a fight with.
"My goodness! Do you suppose his blowhole's ...?"
Sometime later they returned with Pete and the others,
he all excited, certain he had spotted a fuse this time.
Rags the mutt licked and yelped. "Oh, get down!"
But Rags seemed to be on to something. "And if they come
through the alfalfa this time, we'll have a nice idea
of where they are, of who these men are. If they abrade
the abandoned silo, no one will be wiser. Look, their pastel
tent, and flags made from the same substance, waving dehors—
I've got to get an angle on this, a firm tack of some kind."
Willingly, the flood washed over the day
and so much that was complicated, from the past:
the tiny doggy door Rags had made with a T-square,
And if they don't want to play
according to our rules, what then? "Why, then
we'll come up with something, like the sink-drain.
Anyway, this is all just an excuse for you to leave your posts,
toying with anagrams, while the real message
is being written in the stars. To go ahead,
it says, but be watchful for scouts
in the corn shocks. This close to Halloween there are lots of little bumps
around, and tea cosies to shroud them. Beware one last time;
but as the spirit of going is to go, I can't
control you, advise you much longer. Just keep on
persevering, and then we'll know what we have done matters most to us."
With that, the sticks uprooted the tent.
A thousand passions came unleashed,
but fortunately for the girls, none of them were around to witness it—
they were off in a cage with the canaries.
when it came time to vote for who the deed was done
by, the others mattered too. It was just their pot luck.
Oh well, Laure offered, we were going to close down that shaftway
anyway, and the subway came close: It was Mother and her veering
playthings again, torn between the impossible alternatives of existing
and saying no to menace. To everyone's surprise the bus stopped.
Our stalwart little band of angels got on it, and were taken for a ride
into the next chapter, a dim place of curlicues and bas-reliefs.
If I had a handle, Laure thought.
Out in Michigan, or was it Minnesota, though, time had stopped
to see what it could see, which wasn't much. A recent hooligan scare had blighted the
lowering the temperature by several degrees. "Having
to pee ruins my crinoline relentlessly,
because it comes only ecstatically."
But the wounded cow knew otherwise.
She was at least sixty,
had many skins covering her own, regal one. So then they all cry,
at sea. The lawnmower is emitting sparks again,
one doesn't know how many, or how much faster it will have to go
to meet us at the Denizens' by six o'clock. We'd have been better
off letting the prisoners stage their own war. Now I don't know
so much, and with Aunt Jennie at my side we could release
a few more bombs and not know it.
Everywhere in the tangled schist
someone was living, it seemed to say, this is my doing;
whoever shall come afterward is a delusion. And I went round
the corner to say, Well it sure looks like an improvement—hey,
why don't you tie your shoes, and then your bonnet will be picture-perfect?
No, only getting away
has any value to her: A stone's throw is better than a mile
since one will have to be up again much later, and this way
saves time. How often did you let your mother say,
How did you get your Sundays packed away? And yet it's always treasonable
to be in the middle. H'm, there are objections to that,
just as I thought. This might help. Yes. But the color
of this paint is too fabulous, I'd asked for something fragmented
like sea-spray. In that case we cannot be of service to you. Farewell.
Now I had walked the terrible byways for what seemed like too long.
Now another was following, insensately.
Would there be foodstuffs on the steps? How did that ladder point into nowhere?
"Shuffle, you miser!" Just so, Shuffle said,
I don't want to be around when the gang erupts
into centuries of inviolate privilege, and cisterns tumble down
the side of the slope, and all is gone more or less naturally to hell.
To which Dimples replied, Why not? Why not just give yourself, one time,
to the floods of human resources that are our day?
Because I don't want to live at an angle to the blokes who micromanage
our territory, that's all. Oh, who do you mean? Why, the red-trimmed zebras,
Shuffle said, that people thinks is the cutest damn things in town
until the victory bonfire on the square, and then there's more racing
and chasing than you can shake a banjo-string at,
and it'll have muddled you over by the time the war has crested.
He sat, eating a cheese sandwich, wondering if it would be his last,
fiddled and sank away.
And as far as the wires
could stretch, into the inevitable jerk-kingdom, the little girl
crawled on her hands and feet. That was no jack-in-the-box
back there, that was the real thing.
Yes, Stuart Hofnagel, they came to you, they'd expected big things
of you back in Arkadelphia, and now you were a soured loner like anybody.
Old town, you seem to remember otherwise.
That was you backing into love, wasn't it? So we all came and were glad that day.
That was all a fine day for us. Happiness, that we loved you so much;
phony energy, because we were happy.
Yet the town held back, rinsing her skirts
in the dour brook that fled the sawmill, just before four o'clock.
None of us slaves knew any different, having been nursed into solitude the night before
Certainly, if someone knocks on the open door
we will be pleasant, and look after the stranger just as if he were one of our own.
That's the way we were made. We can't help it. Conversely,
if a friend obtrudes his thinking into this plan of ours,
we shall deny all knowledge of him. It happens this way in the wilderness.
Plus the pot is full of old oddments. The rhubarb stains on Peggy's frock
almost—but not quite—match its rickrack trim.
That's where the human aspect comes in.
Some were born to play with, to think constantly about it, with a nod,
not much more, to the future and what its executives might have in store.
We aren't easily intimidated.
And yet we are always frightened,
frightened that this will come to pass
and we all unable to do anything about it, in case it ever does.
So we appeal to you, sun, on this broad day.
You were ever a helpmate in times of great churning, and fatigue.
You make us forget how serious we are
and we dance in the lightning of your rhythm like demented souls
on a hospital spree. If only,
when the horse crawls up your back, you had known to make more of it.
But the climate is military, and yet one can't see too far ahead.
Better a storehouse of pearls than this battered shoehorn
of wood, yet it can cause everything to take place and change for you.
Dearest, we had waited for this star,
the marriage couldn't take place without it. A louse
drags its lonely way up to the end of a porcupine quill, expires,
and can we have heard anything? I mean the paced breathing just outdoors,
and then inside, it's just squalid and quiet,
nothing more. I have a bowl of cherry syrup.
These halls, when the rush of spring is echoing, far ahead,
collapse into tendrils, their décor foreseen
since the dawn of history. One can walk across them, and time suddenly
seems funny, stops, is dead, or mute. And prisoners come begging
for a primrose, or a shaft of sunlight, and the all-seeing sees them
and averts his gaze until tomorrow. Thus, our doom, ringing with half-realized
fantasies, is a promise of a new beginning on another continent.
Only, we must get out of here. A man stands by a cactus, counting
the flecks of rage as they pass by, and you are in another suit,
abashed, a dapper salesman today. And the volley of the shooting gallery
vies with the welter of jarred complacencies, multiple over time,
if time wishes: "Lacrimoso, our sport is behind us!
Lacrimoso, we can't get anything done!
Lacrimoso, the bear has gone after the honey!
Lacrimoso, the honey drips incessantly
from the bough of a tree."
Worse, it was traditional to feel this way.
Just as a good pianist will adjust the piano stool
before his recital, by turning the knobs on either side of it
until he feels he is at a proper distance from the keyboard,
so did our friends plan their day. Sometimes, after a leisurely breakfast,
they would get to work immediately, cutting, gluing, stitching
as the model came entrancingly into view. Other days it was more of a pain,
or more elaborate. Persnickety Peggy was frequently at the heart of things,
her strength often an inspiration to the others, though offset by her tendency to brawl
and generally make a nuisance of herself. The other girls took this in stride,
though. Little by little the house was rising
where only sky had hung before, and it seemed like good news,
a good berth. That was before Tommy took over
and ruined everything. But I am getting ahead of my story.
Sometimes to wake up in the morning was enough. They began feeling better.
Lecture plans were discussed, and a gleaming white envelope, shocking in its purity
as the dawn, would be sealed by two or three of them. There,
that's better, no one would say, and that's how they got down to business.
On rainy days they would stay indoors
watching the chase of drops on the pane, realizing, a little half-frugally,
how it would be impossible to ever go outside. Moss drips on moss;
the more interesting-smelling exhibits have been packed away.
Or was there a terminus, sadly, deep underground? This, only children can know,
and some adults who have turned the steep corner into childhood.
Plums are ripening,
the pitcher of sangria darkens and deepens. So it was ever this way,
until it was past time to become "normal" again. Tell it to the neutered pets
that day! Already the verandas are awash with trouble, and color, the darts seldom miss
Heidi and Peter dissolve in the crystal furnace;
something says it's too late to change, now better to let it come toward
us, then we will see what it is made of.
To have had a son back there ...
But the unthinkable is common knowledge now. We must let down a ladder
so the others may attach their boats to it, and in that way we shall be saved.
Only I think we're ... It's all coming nearer.
Nov. 7. returned again to the exhibition. How strange it is that when we
least imagine we are enjoying themselves, a shaft of reason will bedazzle
us. Then it's up to us, or at any rate them, to think ourselves out of the
muddle and in so doing turn up whole again on the shore, impeached by a
sigh, so that the whole balcony of spectators goes whizzing past, out of
control, on a collision course with destiny and the bridesmaids' sobbing.
Of course, we listened, then whistled, and nobody answered, at least it
seemed nobody did. The silence was so intense there might have been a
sound moving around in it, but we knew nothing of that. Then we came
to. The pictures are so nice on the walls, it seems one might destroy
something by even looking at them; the tendency is to ignore by walking
around the partition into a small, cramped space that is flooded with
daylight. And what if we asked for another spoonful? Look, it's down
there, down at the bottom of the well, and we are no wiser for it, if
anybody asked. Which they don't. By common consent,
including ours, we are ignored and given the cold shoulder to. OK, so it's
all until another day, and we can see quite clearly into the needle whose thread is
waving slowly back and forth like a caterpillar, accomplishing its end.
So may it be until the end that is eternity.
Excerpted from Girls on the Run by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1999 John Ashbery. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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