This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.
The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.
What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,
Bringing a system of them into play. Play?
Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be
A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,
As in the division of grace these long August days
Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know know / It The line began and ended with the same word when first published in the Times Literary Supplement (October 24, 1980): know it / It
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.
It has been played once more. I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.
"Paradoxes and Oxymorons" from Shadow Train by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1980, 1981 by John Ashbery. Used by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.
Source: Shadow Train
(Penguin Books, 1980)