Two Poems

John Ashbery


The deep water in the travel poster finds me
In the change as I was about to back away
From the idea of the comedy around us—
In the chairs. And you too knew how to do the job
Just right. Trumpets in the afternoon
And you first get down to business and
The barges disappear, one by one, up the river.
One of them must be saved for a promise, But no,
The park continues. There is no space between the leaves.

Once when there was more furniture
It seemed we moved more freely not noticing things
Or ourselves: our relationships were wholly articulate
And direct. Now the air between them has thinned
So that breathing becomes a pleasure, an unconscious act.

Then when you had finished talking about the trip
You had planned, and how many days you were to be away
I was looking into the night forests as I held
The receiver to my ear, replying correctly
As I always do, to everything, having become the sleeper in you.

It no longer mattered that I didn’t want you to go away,
That I wanted you to return as quickly as possible
To my house, not yours this time, except
This house is yours when we sleep in it.
And you will be chastised and purified
Once we are both inside the world’s lean-to.
Our words will rise like cigarette smoke, straight to the stars.


This Configuration

This movie deals with the epidemic of the way we live now.
What an inane card player. And the age may support it.
Each time the rumble of the age
Is an anthill in the distance.

As he slides the first rumpled card
Out of his dirty ruffled shirtfront the cartoon
Of the new age has begun its ascent
Around all of us like a gauze spiral staircase in which
Some stars have been imbedded.

It is the modern trumpets
Who decide the mood or tenor of this cross-section:
Of the people who get up in the morning,
Still half-asleep. That they shouldn’t have fun.
But something scary will come
To get them anyway. You might as well linger
On verandas, enjoying life, knowing
The end is essentially unpredictable.
It might be soldiers
Marching all day, millions of them
Past this sport, like the lozenge pattern
Of these walls, like, finally, a kind of sleep.

Or it may be that we are ordinary people
With not unreasonable desires which we can satisfy
From time to time without causing cataclysms
That keep getting louder and more forceful instead of dying away.

Or it may be that we and the other people
Confused with us on the sidewalk have entered
A moment of seeming to be natural, expected,
And we see ourselves at the moment we see them:
Figures of an afternoon, of a century they extended.

Love what you've read? Subscribe to The Paris Review.