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John Ashbery

The Burden of the Park

Each is truly a unique piece,
you said, or, perhaps, each
is a truly unique piece.
I sniff the difference.
It’s like dust in an old house,
or the water thereof. Then you come
to an exciting part.
The bandit affianced
to the blind man’s daughter. The mangel-wurzels
that come out of every door, salute the traveller
and are gone. Or the more melting pace of strolling players,
each with a collapsed sweetie on his arm, each
tidy as one’s idea of everything under the sun is tidy.
And the wolverines
return, with their coach, and night,
the black bat night, is blacker than any bat.

Just so you know, this is the falling-off place,
for the water, where damsels stroll and uncles
know a good thing when they see one.
The park is all over.
It isn’t a knee injury, or a postage stamp on Mars.
It is all of the above, and some other things too:
a nameless morning in May fielded by taut observers.
An inner tube on a couch.

Then we floated down the Great Array river, each
on our inner tube, each one a different color.
Mine was lime green, yours was pistachio.
And the current murmured to us mind your back
for another day. Are
you so sure we haven’t passed the goal-posts yet? Won’t
you reconsider? Remount me to my source? Egad,
Trixie, the water can speak! Like a boy
it speaks, and I’m not so sure how little all this is,
how much fuss shouldn’t be made about it. When another boy comes
to the edge of the falls, and calls, for it is late,
won’t we be sorry for not having invented this one,
letting him fall by the wayside? Then, sure enough, waves
of heather recuse the bearers of false witness, they fly like ribbons
on the stiff breeze, telling of us: We once made
some mistake, it seems, and now we are to be judged, except
it isn’t so bad, someone tells me you’ll be let off the hook,
we will all be able to go home, sojourn and smile again, be racked
with insidious giggles like guilt. Meantime, jugglers swarm over
                                                                                           the volcano’s
stiff sides. We believe it to be Land’s End, that it’s
six o’clock, and the razor fish have gone home.

Once, on Mannahatta’s bleak shore,
I trolled for spunkfish, but caught naught, nothing save
a rubber plunger or two. It was awful,
at that time. Now everything is cheerful.
I wonder, does it make a difference?
Are the sailors waving
from the deck of their distraught ship? We aren’t
envious, though, life being so full of
so many little commotions, it’s up to
whoever to grab his (or hers). The violin slices life up
into manageable hunks, and the fiddler knows not
who he is moving, or cares why people should be so moved;
his mind is on the end, the extraordinary onus of finishing
what’s set out for him. Do you imagine him better off than you?
My feet were numb, I ask him only, how do you carry this
           from here to over there?
Is there a flat barge? How many feet does a centipede have?
(Answer in tomorrow’s edition.) I heard the weeping cranes,
telling how time was running out. It was Belgian,
they thought. Nobody burns the midnight oil for this,
yet I think I shall be a scholar some day, all the same.
The hours suit me. And the rubber corsages the girls wear
in and out of class. Sure, I’ll turn out to be a nerd, and have to sit
in the corner, but that’s part of the exciting adventure. I know things
are different and the same. Now if only I could tell you ...

The period of my rest is ended.
I shall negotiate the fall, and then go crying
back to you all. In those years peace came and went, our father’s
                                                                                             car changed
with the seasons, all around us was fighting and the excitement                                                                                                 of spring.
Now, funnily enough, it’s over. I shan’t mind the vacant premise
that vexed me once. I know it’s all too true. And the hooligan
ogles a calla lily: Maybe only the fingertips are exciting,
it thinks, disposing of another bushelful of ripe nostalgia.
Maybe it’s too late,
maybe they came today.

John Ashbery

John Ashbery, Sydney, 1992
Photograph copyright © John Tranter, 1997

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