Ashbery is 87 today. This is the traditional Ashbery birthday paragraph:
Someone thrust Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror into my hands 35 years ago and it changed the way I read. I say that every year and this every year (though this year I can't go back and copy/paste it from last year): I understand why people don't like and read Ashbery for the same reason I don't like and read Hemingway, we're punishing the originals for their legions of shitty imitators. A friend asked me recently whether I play the My Sillyass Deserted Island Game for poets like I do for musicians and novelists, I was surprised to discover I don't, I hadn't thought of it. I'm still thinking about it (actually I'm still thinking about why I wasn't thinking about it, then I'll get to thinking about the sillyass game), but Ashbery has a permanent spot.
So (a) yes, the poems below have been posted many times here, I like them, and Vaucanson is without debate the most posted poem here - the title of this post, taken from from a line in that that poem, captures best why Ashbery sings to me and (b) yes, I am no longer surprised that I don't play MSADIG with poets and novelists and (c) I am no longer surprised that I don't think about why I don't play MSADIG with poets and novelists because it's one of My Sillyass Deserted Island Obsessions Game and (d) links will return tomorrow (or not), here, links from this past Saturday (with Radigue) and Sunday (with Karkowski) and (e) tomorrow is a High Egoslavian Holy Day and (f) Wednesday is a High Egoslavian Holy Day and (g) here are some hints about Wednesday's:
...by an Earthquake
A hears by chance a familiar name, and the name involves a riddle of the past.
B, in love with A, receives an unsigned letter in which the writer states that she is the mistress of A and begs B not to take him away from her.
B, compelled by circumstances to be a companion of A in an isolated place, alters her rosy views of love and marriage when she discovers, through A, the selfishness of men.
A, an intruder in a strange house, is discovered; he flees through the nearest door into a windowless closet and is trapped by a spring lock.
A is so content with what he has that any impulse toward enterprise is throttled.
A solves an important mystery when falling plaster reveals the place where some old love letters are concealed.
A-4, missing food from his larder, half believes it was taken by a “ghost.”
A, a crook, seeks unlawful gain by selling A-8 an object, X, which A-8 already owns.
A sees a stranger, A-5, stealthily remove papers, X, from the pocket
of another stranger, A-8, who is asleep. A follows A-5.
A sends an infernal machine, X, to his enemy, A-3, and it falls into
the hands of A’s friend, A-2.
Angela tells Philip of her husband’s enlarged prostate, and asks for money.
Philip, ignorant of her request, has the money placed in an escrow account.
A discovers that his pal, W, is a girl masquerading as a boy.
A, discovering that W is a girl masquerading as a boy, keeps the knowledge to himself and does his utmost to save the masquerader from annoying experiences.
A, giving ten years of his life to a miserly uncle, U, in exchange for a college education, loses his ambition and enterprise.
A, undergoing a strange experience among a people weirdly deluded, discovers the secret of the delusion from Herschel, one of the victims who has died. By means of information obtained from the notebook, A succeeds in rescuing the other victims of the delusion.
A dies of psychic shock.
Albert has a dream, or an unusual experience, psychic or otherwise, which enables him to conquer a serious character weakness and become successful in his new narrative, “Boris Karloff.”
Silver coins from the Mojave Desert turn up in the possession of a sinister jeweler.
Three musicians wager that one will win the affections of the local kapellmeister’s wife; the losers must drown themselves in a nearby stream.
Ardis, caught in a trap and held powerless under a huge burning glass, is saved by an eclipse of the sun.
Kent has a dream so vivid that it seems a part of his waking experience.
A and A-2 meet with a tragic adventure, and A-2 is killed.
Elvira, seeking to unravel the mystery of a strange house in the hills, is caught in an electrical storm. During the storm the house vanishes and the site on which it stood becomes a lake.
Alphonse has a wound, a terrible psychic wound, an invisible psychic wound, which causes pain in flesh and tissue which, otherwise, are perfectly healthy and normal.
A has a dream which he conceives to be an actual experience.
Jenny, homeward bound, drives and drives, and is still driving, no nearer to her home than she was when she first started.
Petronius B. Furlong’s friend, Morgan Windhover, receives a wound from which he dies.
Thirteen guests, unknown to one another, gather in a spooky house to hear Toe reading Buster’s will.
Buster has left everything to Lydia, a beautiful Siamese girl poet of whom no one has heard.
Lassie and Rex tussle together politely; Lassie, wounded, is forced to limp home.
In the Mexican gold rush a city planner is found imprisoned by outlaws in a crude cage of sticks.
More people flow over the dam and more is learned about the missing electric cactus.
Too many passengers have piled onto a cable car in San Francisco; the conductor is obliged to push some of them off.
Maddalena, because of certain revelations she has received, firmly resolves that she will not carry out an enterprise that had formerly been dear to her heart.
Fog enters into the shaft of a coal mine in Wales.
A violent wind blows the fog around.
Two miners, Shawn and Hillary, are pursued by fumes.
Perhaps Emily’s datebook holds the clue to the mystery of the seven swans under the upas tree.
Jarvis seeks to manage Emily’s dress shop and place it on a paying basis. Jarvis’s bibulous friend, Emily, influences Jarvis to take to drink, scoffing at the doctor who has forbidden Jarvis to indulge in spirituous liquors.
Jarvis, because of a disturbing experience, is compelled to turn against his friend, Emily.
A ham has his double, “Donnie,” take his place in an important enterprise.
Jarvis loses his small fortune in trying to help a friend.
Lodovico’s friend, Ambrosius, goes insane from eating the berries of a strange plant, and makes a murderous attack on Lodovico.
“New narrative” is judged seditious. Hogs from all over go squealing down the street.
Ambrosius, suffering misfortune, seeks happiness in the companionship of Joe, and in playing golf.
Arthur, in a city street, has a glimpse of Cathy, a strange woman who has caused him to become involved in a puzzling mystery.
Cathy, walking in the street, sees Arthur, a stranger, weeping.
Cathy abandons Arthur after he loses his money and is injured and sent to a hospital.
Arthur, married to Beatrice, is haunted by memories of a former sweetheart, Cornelia, a heartless coquette whom Alvin loves.
Sauntering in a park on a fine day in spring, Tricia and Plotinus encounter a little girl grabbing a rabbit by its ears. As they remonstrate with her, the girl is transformed into a mature woman who regrets her feverish act.
Running up to the girl, Alvin stumbles and loses his coins.
In a nearby dell, two murderers are plotting to execute a third.
Beatrice loved Alvin before he married.
B, second wife of A, discovers that B-3, A’s first wife, was unfaithful.
B, wife of A, dons the mask and costume of B-3, A’s paramour, and meets A as B-3; his memory returns and he forgets B-3, and goes back to B.
A discovers the “Hortensius,” a lost dialogue of Cicero, and returns it to the crevice where it lay.
Ambrose marries Phyllis, a nice girl from another town.
Donnie and Charlene are among the guests invited to the window.
No one remembers old Everett, who is left to shrivel in a tower.
Pellegrino, a rough frontiersman in a rough frontier camp, undertakes to care for an orphan.
Ildebrando constructs a concealed trap, and a person near to him, Gwen, falls into the trap and cannot escape.
THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL
As I sit looking out of a window of the building
I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the uses of a new metal.
I look down into the street and see people, each walking with an inner peace,
And envy them—they are so far away from me!
Not one of them has to worry about getting out this manual on schedule.
And, as my way is, I begin to dream, resting my elbows on the desk and leaning out of the window a little,
Of dim Guadalajara! City of rose-colored flowers!
City I wanted most to see, and most did not see, in Mexico!
But I fancy I see, under the press of having to write the instruction manual,
Your public square, city, with its elaborate little bandstand!
The band is playing Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.
Around stand the flower girls, handing out rose- and lemon-colored flowers,
Each attractive in her rose-and-blue striped dress (Oh! such shades of rose and blue),
And nearby is the little white booth where women in green serve you green and yellow fruit.
The couples are parading; everyone is in a holiday mood.
First, leading the parade, is a dapper fellow
Clothed in deep blue. On his head sits a white hat
And he wears a mustache, which has been trimmed for the occasion.
His dear one, his wife, is young and pretty; her shawl is rose, pink, and white.
Her slippers are patent leather, in the American fashion,
And she carries a fan, for she is modest, and does not want the crowd to see her face too often.
But everybody is so busy with his wife or loved one
I doubt they would notice the mustachioed man’s wife.
Here come the boys! They are skipping and throwing little things on the sidewalk
Which is made of gray tile. One of them, a little older, has a toothpick in his teeth.
He is silenter than the rest, and affects not to notice the pretty young girls in white.
But his friends notice them, and shout their jeers at the laughing girls.
Yet soon all this will cease, with the deepening of their years,
And love bring each to the parade grounds for another reason.
But I have lost sight of the young fellow with the toothpick.
Wait—there he is—on the other side of the bandstand,
Secluded from his friends, in earnest talk with a young girl
Of fourteen or fifteen. I try to hear what they are saying
But it seems they are just mumbling something—shy words of love, probably.
She is slightly taller than he, and looks quietly down into his sincere eyes.
She is wearing white. The breeze ruffles her long fine black hair against her olive cheek.
Obviously she is in love. The boy, the young boy with the toothpick, he is in love too;
His eyes show it. Turning from this couple,
I see there is an intermission in the concert.
The paraders are resting and sipping drinks through straws
(The drinks are dispensed from a large glass crock by a lady in dark blue),
And the musicians mingle among them, in their creamy white uniforms, and talk
About the weather, perhaps, or how their kids are doing at school.
Let us take this opportunity to tiptoe into one of the side streets.
Here you may see one of those white houses with green trim
That are so popular here. Look—I told you!
It is cool and dim inside, but the patio is sunny.
An old woman in gray sits there, fanning herself with a palm leaf fan.
She welcomes us to her patio, and offers us a cooling drink.
“My son is in Mexico City,” she says. “He would welcome you too
If he were here. But his job is with a bank there.
Look, here is a photograph of him.”
And a dark-skinned lad with pearly teeth grins out at us from the worn leather frame.
We thank her for her hospitality, for it is getting late
And we must catch a view of the city, before we leave, from a good high place.
That church tower will do—the faded pink one, there against the fierce blue of the sky. Slowly we enter.
The caretaker, an old man dressed in brown and gray, asks us how long we have been in the city, and how we like it here.
His daughter is scrubbing the steps—she nods to us as we pass into the tower.
Soon we have reached the top, and the whole network of the city extends before us.
There is the rich quarter, with its houses of pink and white, and its crumbling, leafy terraces.
There is the poorer quarter, its homes a deep blue.
There is the market, where men are selling hats and swatting flies
And there is the public library, painted several shades of pale green and beige.
Look! There is the square we just came from, with the promenaders.
There are fewer of them, now that the heat of the day has increased,
But the young boy and girl still lurk in the shadows of the bandstand.
And there is the home of the little old lady—
She is still sitting in the patio, fanning herself.
How limited, but how complete withal, has been our experience of Guadalajara!
We have seen young love, married love, and the love of an aged mother for her son.
We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses.
What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do.
And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my
It was snowing as he wrote.
In the gray room he felt relaxed and singular,
But no one, of course, ever trusts these moods.
There had to be understanding to it.
Why, though? That always happens anyway,
And who gets the credit for it? Not what is understood,
Presumably, and it diminishes us
In our getting to know it.
As trees come to know a storm
Until it passes and light falls anew
Unevenly, on all the muttering kinship:
Things with things, persons with objects,
Ideas with people or ideas.
It hurts, this wanting to give a dimension
To life when life is precisely that dimension.
We are creatures, therefore we walk and talk
And people come up to us, or listen
And then move away.
Music fills the spaces
Where figures are pulled to the edges,
And it can only say something.
Sinews are loosened then,
The mind begins to think good thoughts.
Ah, this sun must be good:
Doing a number, completing its trilogy.
Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one could find it
And now you can't remember where.
But if one were to invent being a child again
It might just come close enough to being a living relic
To save this thing, save it from embarrassment
By ringing down the curtain,
And for a few seconds no one would notice.
The ending would seem perfect.
No feelings to dismay,
No tragic sleep to wake from in a fit
Of passionate guilt, only the warm sunlight
That slides easily down shoulders
To the soft, melting heart.