Thursday, April 9, 2009

John Ashbery

From China To Peru

I was taunted for wearing a dark woolen suit to the occasion, or "affair," though most of the others were similarly dressed, including my tormentor. True, it was autumn and darkness had fallen quite early, though there was a sultriness like that of summer in the air. I would have been happy to change into something lighter, both as to weight and color-something "natural." But there was no time, or place, in addition to the lack of suitable attire, if that's what it would have been, since the mass of dark clothes had taken on a kind of accusatory mien. Men who looked as though they were about to go off on safari or had just returned from one were downing Jell-O shots. To do this it seemed to be necessary to walk backward to a corner of the room shrouded in potted palms, then lurch ataxically toward the bar where the required drink was presented silently and as silently consumed. Sometimes one could hear the soft, laughing chatter of little girls in the distance (what distance? the room was fairly small), which seemed like applause for an act performed several minutes ago. It was unnerving-like a circus. I understood the meaning of the phrase "three-ring circus"-something where you see only a partial are of several events, segments that are supposed to add up to something much less than the sum of their parts, something purposely deficient in meaning. I was thirsty for the cocktail hour that would undoubtedly follow this strange competition.

Then the unthinkable happened-it all began to break up like the first wave of a retreating tide on a rock in the sea. In less than half a minute the sea had completely withdrawn, leaving a startled landscape of reefs and crowds, fierce and bristling as the water danced away from them. These were my coevals. They were still dressed like me, or rather, I like them. A draught from an opened window crawled through the apartment, rustling papers and the leaves of plants. A sheet of newsprint slid toward me in jerks and feints-two steps forward, one step back-until finally I could read the headline: "Japan Declares War on Austro-Hungary. Siamese Ambassador Recalled."

I would have been happy with a weather report. But though some of the girls tried, there was no way of getting it to me. Full of remorse, I sank down on a footstool and soon forgot all the horror of my situation.

from Where Shall I Wander (2005 Ecco Press)


  1. It can be like a waterfall to type out a John Ashbery poem

  2. i just rediscovered where shall i wander the other day, my eyes/brain/etc love it.