Sunday, October 30, 2011


I saw the reflection in the mirror
And it doesn't count, or not enough
To make a difference, fabricating itself 
Out of the old, average light of a college town,

And afterwards, when the bus trip 
Had depleted my pocket of its few pennies 
He was seen arguing behind steamed glass, 
With an invisible proprietor. What if you can't own

This one either? ..

      For it seems that all 
Moments are like this: thin, unsatisfactory
As gruel, worn away each time you return to them.
Until one day you rip the canvas from its frame

And take it home with you. You think the god-given 
Assertiveness in you has triumphed 
Over the stingy scenario: these objects are as real as meat, 
As tears. We are all soiled with this desire, at the last moment, 
the last.

   I am always in Hanover,
   New Hampshire, in the old
   college town, when I read
   this poem. Such associations
   are illegitimate grounds
   for criticism, and arbitrary
   to confide. But the isolated
   vitality of the place fits 
   the imagery, and the immedi-
   acy and distance in this poem, 
   very well. I have grown to
   admire the shocking final
   phrase unreservedly, the more
   I've understood how the last
   reflects the most precious and
   constant, persistent and con-
   sistent, likely and quotidian,
   in a contingency always at the
   last. What we call a masterpiece 
   we would love, anyway. Sometimes,
   it is.

John Ashbery
Shadow Train
  Drunken Americans
Penguin, 1981©


  1. YOU make me see things for the first time new and unspoiled in words and images . I challenge my senses on both and try to comprehend with affection and seriousness

  2. You know it is always harder than not, Lucien, to ask questions in this setting, where the comprehension problems originate. Ashbery's "soiling" plainly comes from some other perspective than its common use, which only makes it more brilliant on the surface and provocative of thought and feeling. I am convinced it is an enormously positive image, and I'm grateful for your company in investigating it.

  3. maybe together comes clarity - and clarity becomes togetherness