John Ashbery, "Business personals"
The disquieting muses again: what are "leftovers"?
Perhaps they have names for it all, who come bearing
Worn signs of privilege whose authority
Speaks out of the accumulation of age and faded colors
To the center of today. Floating heart, why
Wander on senselessly? The tall guardians
Of yesterday are steep as cliff shadows;
Whatever path you take abounds in their sense.
All presently lead downward, to the harbor view.
Therefore do your knees need to be made strong, by running.
We have places for the training and a special on equipment:
Knee-pads, balancing poles and the rest. It works
In the sense of aging: you come out always a little ahead
And not so far as to lose a sense of the crowd
Of disciples. That were tyranny,
Outrage, hubris. Meanwhile this tent is silence
Itself. Its walls are opaque, so as not to see
The road; a pleasant, half-heard melody climbs to its ceiling-
Not peace, but rest the doctor ordered. Tomorrow . . .
And songs climb out of the flames of the near campfires,
Pale, pastel things exquisite in their frailness
With a note or two to indicate it isn't lost,
On them at least. The songs decorate our notion of the world
And mark its limits, like a frieze of soap-bubbles.
What caused us to start caring?
In the beginning was only sedge, a field of water
Wrinkled by the wind. Slowly
The trees increased the novelty of always being alone,
The rest began to be sketched in, and then . . . silence,
Or blankness, for a number of years. Could one return
To the idea of nature summed up in these pastoral images?
Yet the present has done its work of building
A rampart against the past, not a rampart,
A barbed-wire fence. So now we know
What occupations to stick to ( scrimshaw, spinning tall tales)
By the way the songs deepen the color of the shadow
Impregnating your hobby as you bend over it,
Squinting. I could make a list
Of each one of my possessions and the direction it
Pointed in, how much each thing cost, how much for wood, string,
colored ink, etc.
The song makes no mention of directions.
At most it twists the longitude lines overhead
Like twigs to form a crude shelter. (The ship
Hasn't arrived, it was only a dream. It's somewhere near
Cape Horn, despite all the efforts of Boreas to puff out
Those drooping sails.) The idea of great distance
Is permitted, even implicit in the slow dripping
Of a lute. How to get out?
This giant will never let us out unless we blind him.
And that's how, one day, I got home.
Don't be shocked that the old walls
Hang in rags now, that the rainbow has hardened
Into a permanent late afternoon that elicits too-long
Shadows and indiscretions from the bottom
Of the soul. Such simple things,
And we make of them something so complex it defeats us,
Almost. Why can't everything be simple again,
Like the first words of the first song as they occurred
To one who, rapt, wrote them down and later sang them:
"Only danger deflects
The arrow from the center of the persimmon disc,
Its final resting place. And should you be addressing yourself
To danger? When it takes the form of bleachers
Sparsely occupied by an audience which has
Already witnessed the events of which you write,
Tellingly, in your log? Properly acknowledged
It will dissipate like the pale pink and blue handkerchiefs
That vanished centuries ago into the blue dome
That surrounds us, but which are, some maintain, still here."
Ashbery haiku erasure
Muses bearing signs
of age and faded colors
steep as cliff shadows
need balancing poles
to lose a sense of outrage.
This tent is silence
wrinkled by the wind,
a rampart against the past.
Scrimshaw, spinning tall,
twists like twigs to form
the slow dripping of a lute.
Old walls hang in rags.
Danger takes the form
of bleachers occupied by