Three Poems
I See, Said the Blind Man, As He Put Down His Hammer and Saw

There is some charm in that old music
He’d fall for when the night wind released it:
Pleasant to be away; the stones fall back;
The hill of gloom in place over the roar
Of the kitchens but with remembrance like a bright patch
Of red in a bunch of laundry. But will the car
Ever pull away and spunky at all times he’d
Got the mission between the ladder
And the slices of bread someone had squirted astrology over
Until it took the form of a man, obtuse, out of pocket
Perhaps, probably standing there.

Can’t you see how we need these far-from-restful pauses?
And in the wind neighbors and such agree
It’s a hard thing, a milestone of sorts in some way?
So that the curtains contribute what charm they can
To the spectacle: an overflowing cesspool
Among the memoirs of court life, the candy, cigarettes,
And what else. What kind is it, is there more than one
Kind, are people forever going to be at the edge
Of things, even the nice ones, and when it happens
Will we all be alone together? The armor
Of these thoughts laughs at itself
Yet the distances are always growing
With everything between, in between
The tall hedges that seem to know what life is:
An offering that stands to one side. And we dream.


A Fly

And still I automatically look to that place on the wall—
The timing is right, but off—
The approval soured—
That’s what comes of age but not aging,
The marbles all snapped into the side pockets,
The stance for today we know full well is
Yesterday’s delivery and ripe prediction—
The way not to hold in when circling,
As a delighted draughtsman sits down to his board.

Reasons, reasons for this:
The enthusiast mopping through his hair again
As he squats on the toilet and catches one eye in the mirror
(Guys it has come through all right
For once as delivered it’s all here and me with time on my hands
For once, with writing to spare, and how many
Times have there been words to waste,
That you had to spend or else take big losses
In the car after an early dinner the endless
Light streaking out of the windshield
A breakthrough
I guess but don’t just now take into account,
Don’t look at the time) and time
Comes looking for you out of Pennsylvania and New Jersey
It doesn’t travel well
Colors his hair beige
paints the straw walls gilds the mirror
On the balcony deflecting the morning sun’s rays
Onto the straight carpet

The thing is that this is places in the world,
Freedom from rent,
Sundries, food, a dictionary to keep you company
But is also the day we all got together
That the treaty was signed
And it all eased off into the big afternoon off the coast
Slid shoulders into the groundswell removed its boots
That we may live now with some
Curiosity and hope
Like pools that soon become part of the tide


When the Sun Went Down

To have been loved once by someone—surely
There is a permanent good in that,
Even if we don’t know all the circumstances
Or it happened too long ago to make any difference.
Like almost too much sunlight or an abundance of sweet-sticky,
Caramelized things—who can tell you it’s wrong?
Which of the others on your team could darken the passive
Melody that runs on, that has been running since the world began?

Yet, to be strapped to one’s mindset, which seems
As enormous as a plain, to have to be told
That its horizons are comically confining,
And all the sorrow wells from there, like the slanting
Plume of a waterspout: doesn’t it supplant knowledge
Of the different forms of love, reducing them
To a white indifferent prism, a roofless love standing open
To the elements? And some see in this paradigm of how it rises
Slowly to the indifferent heavens, all that pale glamour?

The refrain is desultory as birdsong, it seeps unrecognizably
Into the familiar structures that lead out from here
To the still familiar peripheries and less sure notions:
It already had its way. In time for evening relaxation.
There are times when music steals a march on us,
Is suddenly perplexingly nearer, flowing in my wrist;
Is the true and dirty words you whisper nightly
As the book closes like a collapsing sheet, a blur
Of all kinds of connotations ripped from the hour and tossed
Like jewels down a well; the answer, also,
To the question that was on my mind but that I’ve forgotten,
Except in the way certain things, certain nights, come together.

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.