Conjunctions:35 American Poetry: States of the Art

Four Poems
The following appears with three additional Ashbery poems in Conjunctions:35.
Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland
I was an hour ago. I walked upstairs to Dreamland. Took a cab and got out and somebody else backed in. Now we weren’t actually on the Dreamland floor. That would be for later. Look, these are the proper plans, plants. They used to have a Chautauqua here, far out into the lake. Now it’s peeled. No one actually comes here. Yet there are people. You just hardly ever see them. No I wasn’t being modest. Some get out on the floor, several a year, whose purple glass sheds an eldritch glow on the trottoirs, as Whitman called them. Or spittoons. Look, we are almost a half a mile later, it must link up. The Tennessee drifter smiled sharkly. Then it was on to native board games.

Je bois trop.

In one of these, called “Skunk,” you are a weasel chasing a leveret back to its hole when Bop! the mother weasel, about ten stories tall, traps you with her apron string, patterned with poppies and rotted docks. You see, you thought every noun had to have an adjective, even “sperm,” and that’s where you made your first big mistake. Later it’s raining and we have to take a car. But the game isn’t over—there are sixteen thousand marble steps coming up, down which you glide as effortlessly as you please, as though on a bicycle, weasel in tow. It’s an exercise bike. What a time to tell me, the solar wind has sandpapered everything as smooth as quartz. Now it’s back to the finish line with you.

You’re not quite out of the woods yet. Dreamland has other pastures, other melodies to chew on. Hummingbirds mate with dragonflies beneath the broken dome of the air, and it’s three o’clock, the sun is raining mineral-colored candy. It’d like one of these. It’s yours. Now I’m glad we came. I hate drafts though and the sun is slowly moving away. I’m standing on the poopdeck wiggling colored pennants at the coal-colored iceberg that seeems to be curious about us, is sliding this way and that, then turns abruptly back into the moors with their correct hills in the distance. If it was me I’d take a trip like this every day of my life. 

John Ashbery (1927–2017) was a poet, art writer, collagist, and translator from the French. His over twenty-five collections include Commotion of the Birds, Breezeway, Notes from the Air, A Worldly Country (all from Ecco), and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, Penguin), which received a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and National Book Award. President Obama presented Ashbery with a National Humanities Medal in 2012.