Poetry Month: No I Don’t (Ashbery)

No I Don’t

I have no adventures, the adventurous began,
Except for my hearing, which as you know, can be undependable.
Sometimes staying in the house can be bad. But then, returning,
To find some vine that has licked out over an eave
Like an unruly eyebrow, something that wasn’t there
Moments ago, can stop you in your tracks. I mean the way
Things have of just happening once the principle
Of happening has been laid down for them can be alarming
Or like a rush of bubbles to the nose, depending. Mostly
Faces are good to me though, I lap them up like lukewarm tea.

Only when the giant’s last belch has been duly heard
And recorded can we proceed with the meeting; by then, however,
Its processes are swamped in the atmosphere of the tale
It seems we overheard, taking on a new, irregular life
From it, hauling our drab sensibilities away with it
Until it reads like an autobiography. Wasn’t it on this day
Exactly a year ago, that the fabric began to rustle
And strange stems with small gilded flowers on them were suddenly
There, and obviously the seeds had been planted at some point
For it to happen, so much of it as it’s only now
Turning out to seem? Our fathers, who had so many categories
For so few things, could have supplied a term
Like a special brush for bathing, and in due course this
Particularity would have faded into the sum of the light,
An entity no more. But we perceive it as another kind of thing,
From another order, neither familiar not strange but rooted
In the near future, muzzle lowered like a charging beast’s,
But a hint, shadow of an approaching season, so there’s
Some fun in that. Mostly bother and having to get up,
It’s true, but not without moments of amusement that stay
Like a thin, spreading stain on white muslin: the commodity
Of our dreams, it turns out, but also something we could sell
If we wanted to, before it slips out to sea like a giant, rusted ship.

But you –
You cannot follow them, he said,
You have to stay here just one more day please
To take the reading so that all who might have been relieved
By your definite verdict may catch pleasurable breaths again
And say it’s so. It registered. True, this leaves us with little to do:
Housework, or something called that. Changing the needle
Of the clock, putting the dust away in twos and threes
As icons merging with the old gold of twilight: you,
A person to be read to. Then the bargains
In knotted ribbons in the sky, as sincerely blue-violet as the deep
Thought of their maker, can stun without hurting, emptying
Us out of sleep’s dustpan into the little pile of question
Marks and wooden letters, and night gets sleepy
And silly, what with all those peculiar noises. Doesn’t it come on
From the passion flower, whether it will or will not hang
The “closed” sign at the door for whatever may be good in us
That will last as long as death: a polite closed one?
– John Ashbery, from April Galleons

Ashbery can be difficult to get into; Meghan O’Rourke wrote a piece for Slate on understanding the poet. SUNY Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center has a page collecting some of Ashbery’s poems.


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