Two Poems

John Ashbery

Musica Reservata

Then I reached the field and I thought 
this is not a joke not a book 
but a poem about something—but what? 
Poems are such odd little jiggers. 
This one scratches himself, gets up, then goes off to pee 
in a corner of the room. Later looking quite 
stylish in white jodhpurs against the winter 
snow, and in his reluctance to talk to the utterly 
discursive: “I will belove less than feared ...”

He trotted up, he trotted down, he trotted all around the town. 
Were his relatives jealous of him? 
Still the tock-tock machinery lies half-embedded in sand. 
Someone comes to the window, the wave is a gesture proving nothing, 
and nothing has receded. One gets caught 
in servants like these and must lose the green leaves, 
one by one, as an orchard is pilfered, and then, with luck, 
nuggets do shine, the baited trap slides open. 
We are here with our welfare intact.

Oh but another time, on the resistant edge of night 
one thinks of the pranks things are. 
What led the road that sped underfoot 
to oases of disaster, or at least the unknown? 
We are born, buried for a while, then spring up just as 
everything is closing. Our desires are extremely simple: 
a glass of purple milk, for example, or a dream 
of being in a restaurant. Waiters encourage us, and squirrels. 
There’s no telling how much of us will get used.

My friend devises the cabbage horoscope 
that points daily to sufficiency. He and all those others go home. 
The walls of this room are like Mykonos, and sure enough, 
green plumes toss in the breeze outside 
that underscores the stillness of this place 
we never quite have, or want. Yet it’s wonderful, this 
being; to point to a tree and say don’t I know you from somewhere? 
Sure, now I remember, it was in some landscape somewhere, 
and we can all take off our hats.

At night when it’s too cold 
what does the rodent say to the glass shard? 
What are any of us doing up? Oh but there’s 
a party, but it too was a dream. A group of boys 
was singing my poetry, the music was an anonymous 
fifteenth-century Burgundian anthem, it went something like this:

“This is not what you should hear, 
but we are awake, and days 
with donkey ears and packs negotiate 
the narrow canyon trail that is 
as white and silent as a dream, 
that is, something you dreamed. 
And resources slip away, or are pinned 
under a ladder too heavy to lift. 
Which is why you are here, but the mnemonics 
of the ride are stirring.”

That, at least, is my hope.


The Youth’s Magic Horn


The gray person disputes the other’s clotheshorse stature 
       just send us some water maybe 
herding him onto the escalator for a last roll 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste 

We don’t pay contributors 
       just send us some water maybe 
We’ll talk about the new flatness 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste 

I’ll probably be sleeping with you sometime between now and next week 
       just send us some water maybe 
I haven’t made a threat that the army hasn’t carried out 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste 

Meaningless an April day hungers for its model a drawstring 
       just send us some water maybe 
Billboards empty of change rattle along beside 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste 

Somewhere between here and the Pacific the time got screwed up 
       just send us some water maybe 
but my spelling, as always, is excruciatingly correct 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste 

and I welcome intrusions like the sun 
       just send us some water maybe 
and all around us aquifers are depleted, the heat soars, 
       and bitter, bitter is its taste. 


First in dreams I questioned the casing of the gears the enigma presented 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
The twa corbies belched and were gone, song veiled sky that day 
      I have to stop in one mile 

The century twitched and spewed gnomes from its folds 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
The mule-gray pilgrim was seen departing 
      I have to stop in one mile 

I never knew the name for this brand of contumely 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
Believe me I wanted to play the shores are still beautiful 
      I have to stop in one mile 

Here shall we sup and infest sleep for the night 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
Morning will surprise us with winds like variable coins 
      I have to stop in one mile 

You’re the truth in my cup, violet in the edge of memory 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
retrieve me at my dying moment so shall our hearts decay 
      I have to stop in one mile 

Remember the stone that sits beside you— 
      You’re a pain in the ass my beloved 
Sometimes they come for you and forget 
      I have to stop in one mile 

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