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from lingo 8

 
John Ashbery
 
from Girls on the Run and Dream Sequence (Untitled)
 

VII

The thread ended up on the floor,
where all threads go.
It became a permanent thing, like silver:
Every time you polish it, a little goes away.
Then the ducks arrived, it was raining.
Such a lot of going around and doing!
Sometimes they were in sordid sexual situations;
at others, a smidgen of fun would intrude on our day
which is there to be intruded on, anyway.
Its value, to us, is incommensurate
with, let's say, the concept of duration, which kills,
as surely as a serpent hiding behind a stump.
Our phrase books began to feel useless‹for once
you have learned a language, what is there to do but forget it?
Each illustration changes us.

These were cloistered. They stayed
with us that winter, then went on a little while.
Soon they were back. It was partially time to go out in the opening.
Some enjoyed it.
Then, if they were true,
the blue rabbit heaped bones upon them. There was no going back,
now, though, some did go back. Those who did
didn't get very far. The others came out a little ahead,
I think. . . I don't know.

Look, this is what I am, what I was made of.
Am I therefore to usurp the rose
that blows on time's pediment, wrapping all wisps in a kind of bundle
of awe? But the sundial smiled in the rain, the stile
beckoned, the sign said it was three miles. In the lane the parson's
ambulance pestered gold pigtails, who were in for a shock
of course when the fox returned smiling, fanning his great tail in the corset
of the lighthouses the sausages were so concerned about.
Did the game of stealing please many? Here, on the other side, they were in sync,
their bowls of muesli crooning to the sidelong bats of evening, and then they were let out
to smoke a cigarette in the meadow. No one knew how many
tried to escape, or how many were successful. You had to read it
in the evening's news, and by then sea-cows were weary.
They taxed themselves out of existence. Our raft capsized
and they opined the day was bright with promise, though shut off
from what really happened. It was time for golf.

This was that day's learning.

Finally when Angela could retrieve her moorings they sent the tide out,
but it came back next day, increasingly bizarre.
Bunny and Philip weren't sure they wanted to see more. "But you must,"
Angela urged, breathing a little faster. Then they all wanted to know why it goes on
all the time, and the preacher answered it was due to bats. In the silos. Oh,
I thought you wanted to know, Philip said. We do, but other than you there are two
pails formally, and no one can figure out what is inside. Indeed? Well I'll
take the plunge Philip volunteered. He was always a brave little kid.
Now it was this side of sunset again. Nobody knew which was in error: the stove, or its waistband.
After which the elm buds chanced a summer intrusion
and all the nifty year was almost gone. Well isn't that a catastrophe, Aunt Clara gurgled,
or are some of you please going to take it outside? Aw, but it's raining, someone grumbled,
Why can't we stay inside and have school?
Yes but the quitter must go far out into the bogs. It's time for the badgers to nest
and who is that coming over the hill this time? It's
Spider, Angela suggested.

But as for leaving you all without a tale to tell, I would be daft,
nay derelict, not to insist on where the others have gone. Isn't there a place
to stop, that we'll all know about when we come to it?
Yes there is, she said, we'll just all have to back down
into the gloom, and bait our hooks with peanut butter
which is what they did
and so they left home that day.


IX

And now everyone must sleep.
The kiddies are silent for awhile,

And yes, singly or in pairs,
they come down to the water's edge, to drink their fill. The wide-eyed pansies gaze
immutably. Rev up the old flivver, we'll be disparate
for a time
and then we'll see, the mice will see. Why all the fuss?
You know you came here just for this, this kiss, on the face, the dog said.
Where are you starting to go? Are my pants too wide?
What if someone else on the other side of the globe
told you this, would he fall off? Would I?
That's why they stay stand clear.
You can never do yourself favors enough, in the rosebush
from which man never disentangles himself. I see,
someone said. Does it matter about being alone? No it's important
but not that important. I see, this person said. But then what if I am
no longer alone? What then? Two of you can board as long as one stays on the lookout
the relaxed policeman said. He brought a sandwich down the street
and placed it on the curb, he was so nice. We didn't expect the birches
to explode just then. The sound traveled over the neighboring hills
down to the makeshift waterfront, lugubrious in the darkening air.
It's the cold
again he said. Every time I forget something whenever anything is in motion
again, this happens, and I am not prepared for it. I'm plum scared.
Then you should go out,
your dress will be as morning to the cows,
she said. And he did and it was.

By and by Allen told us of a scheme
to rescue Pliable, if the latter consented, which surely he would,
and it would all seem as if it had never been.
But it would have, we'd know that, and ever after, as adults,
wandering the velvet streets, we'd come upon someone who would have known someone
who wasn't all there and we'd be back at square one in the love market
and oceans of tremors would have been discovered. A word
would issue from a crack in the pavement, and it was up to Jane and the detective to decide
whether they'd heard it. If they hadn't, fine.
Otherwise it's down to the station
to sort everything out in the middle of the night, and not taken to too kindly
either. Drunks passed back and forth. Jane
was titillated but squeamish. She thought of asking Cupid
if the seams of her stockings were straight, but Pliable intervened strenuously,
arguing that no two people can take love into their own hands.
Oh. Excuse me. Bye bye. I'm
outta here. No, said Jane, you don't
understand, he means to be nice. He's a sheep, really. Yes but I don't see
how that affects me, and anyway I'm not interested. Oh, please, you must be,
she agitated, just for a little while as we perch
on this twig that must be the end of the world for us. Jolly good,
Pliable thought, it's me or you, now or never and here comes

I awoke from the dream. A big boom
was passing over my head. I could see clear up the mizzen, if that counts,
any more, your honor, I just want to say I respects
all what is good, and don't come here any more, I won't. That is good.
We'll take off and be back pronto. Don't
answer the telephone until dawn. Supposing they come and
want to ask you and we are gone, or in the middle of something? That's OK but don't
be gone too long. We'll come too.

I'm no expert but I see a problem here.
The fisheries have come undone, as the headlong race to the pole
has made alarmingly evident. As I say, I can speak only for myself,
but as soon as I got here the rules became different.
They didn't apply to me any more, or to anyone else except a distant runt,
almost invisible in its litter. So how was
I to know who to stand up to, when to turn abrasive, when all things nestled,
equidistant, all hearts were charming, and it was good to be natural and sincere?
True, we had much to worry about,
other things to think about, but when has mankind had the leisure
to extricate himself from these and other unassailable syllogisms?
So the truth just washed up on the shore,
a bundle of nerves, not resembling much of anything
we cared to remember. Was polite, stoical,
and anything else to deflect attention from its seething ambiguity.
It was time to come back, back into the flower-bedecked house.
A stunning moment of certainty survived
briefly, then it too was washed away in the rising flood,
tortured, unambitious.
School was over,
not just for that day but forever and for seasons to come.
The reason was that the truth was just average
on the iniquity scale, and nobody wanted to get involved.


 
  lingo 8
Books in print by John Ashbery



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