Sunday, September 10

The last paragraph I read last night, on the eve of our
anniversary (Lynda's and mine--our fifteenth, as near as
we can recollect) and the beginning of another new year
for me, my seventy-first, was found by chance in John
Ashbery's Three Poems, written back when he was in his
late thirties and seeming today something like a little
prayer for all of us.

"We were ideally happy. we had reached that stage in our
perennial evolution where holy thoughts no longer exist
and one can speak one's mind freely, and the night shot
back an answering fragrance: too far to the stars, but it
was here in its intimacy that wraps you in permissiveness,
leaving you free as it wanes to learn more about your special
thoughts or any ideas you might have. It is never too late
to mend. When one is in one's late thirties, ordinary things
--like a pebble or a glass of water--take on an expressive
sheen. One wants to know more about them, and one in
turn lived by them. Young people might not envy this
kind of situation, perhaps rightly so, yet there is now
interleaving the pages of suffering and indifference to
suffering a prismatic space that cannot be seen, merely
felt through the mists of helpless acceptance of everything
else projected in our miserable, dank span of days. One
is aware of it as an open field of narrative possibilities.
Not in the edifying sense of the tales of the past that we
are still (however) chained to, but as stories that tell only
of themselves, so that one realizes one's self has dwindled
and now at last vanished in the diamond light of
speculation. Collar up, you are lighter than air. The only
slightly damaged bundle of receptive nerves is humming
again, receiving the colorless emanation from outer space
and dispatching dense, precisely worded messages. There
is room to move around in it, which is all that matters.
The pain that drained the blood from your cheeks when
you were young and turned you into a whitened specter
before your time is converted back into a source of energy
that peoples this new world of perceived phenomena with
wonder. You wish you could shake hands with your
lovers and enemies, forgive and love them, but they too
are occupied as you are, though they greet you with
friendly, half-distracted smiles and nods. The Hermit
has passed on, slowly and haltingly, the light streaming
from under his cloak, and in his place the Hanged Man
points his toe at the stars, at ease at last in comfortably
assuming that age-old attitude of sacrifice; the gold
coins slither out of his pockets and fall to earth which
they fertilize with many ideas, some harebrained, others
daringly original. In the sky a note of fashionable
melancholy has begun to prevail: it is the quick-witted
devotion of Sagittarius, the healer, caustic but kind,
sweeping away the cobwebs of intuitive realism that
still lingered there in pockets of darkness. The Archer
takes careful aim, his arrow flies to the nearest card,
the Five of Cups: 'Trouble from a loved one. Trouble
introduced into the midst of an already realized state.
Amorous dangers. Perils through a woman.' And also
rectitude, for the aim was just. From the tiny trickle
of blood from the wounded card a green stain grows;
some leaves shoot up and then tiny white odorless
flowers, the promise of what still remains to be
fulfilled. But of course since that was no shot in the
dark it is an already realized state in its potential.
The note is struck, the development of its resonances
ready to snap into place. For the moment we know
nothing more than this."

--John Ashbery

fr. Three Poems

[New York: Viking Press, 1972]

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