RIP: John Ashbery

All poetry seems to mention itself unconsciously

And for some time it mentioned you like nerves

Branching out from one another in the spiral of time

That is now, at least for now, in stasis

 

You told us how afraid it all made you

Either to give us liberty or to enclose us

I could never tell, none of us could

It was the dawning of the age of action

 

But now it’s time to put aside the wait again

And make this thing of scalloped words and

Curdled thoughts, of fresh-brewed angst, of

Omelet ideas and opinions on rye with mustard

 

I can’t figure you out – the whole gestalt, not just

The bit about surface and subtext subsiding

“Quintessentially” – and the “dead-letter offices”

Dissolving into what? A cerulean sky?

 

But the span of your career – the lifetime

Of farms and Ivy league schools and “always” Novembers

The early gatherings of the action boys, the fast painters

Before the dying and the “wrenched out” souls

 

While you were turning out to turning in

Walking the streets, the same old streets

A coat of autumn leaves and brittle grass, of

Suburban “airs” and city smarts on your shoulders

 

They say The New Yorker had for years

A toss-out bin filled daily with “beached

Glimpses” and “pinched” vibrations and

Labeled John Ashbury wannabes

 

So I cradle this, this that never was written

As easily and impossibly as you cradled the

“Average” violin that you said knew only

Forgotten show tunes, but knew much more

 

And still the question hangs like smoke or better fog

Whether the room we entered with the portrait of the dog

Without windows, without external light, without sound

Was yours or ours and something loose or tightly bound