In town it was very urban but in the country cows were covering the hills. The clouds were near and very moist. I was walking along the pavement with Anna, enjoying the scattered scenery. Suddenly a sound like a deep bell came from behind us. We both turned to look. “It’s the words you spoke in the past, coming back to haunt you,” Anna explained. “They always do, you know.”
Indeed I did. Many times this deep bell-like tone had intruded itself on my thoughts, scrambling them at first, then rearranging them in apple-pie order. “Two crows,” the voice seemed to say, “were sitting on a sundial in the God-given sunlight. Then one flew away.”
“Yes . . . and then?” I wanted to ask, but I kept silent. We turned into a courtyard and walked up several flights of stairs to the roof, where a party was in progress. “This is my friend Hans,” Anna said by way of introduction. No one paid much attention and several guests moved away to the balustrade to admire the view of orchards and vineyards, approaching their autumn glory. One of the women however came to greet us in a friendly manner. I was wondering if this was a “harvest home,” a phrase I had often heard but never understood.
“Welcome to my home . . . well, to our home,” the woman said gaily. “As you can see, the grapes are being harvested.” It seemed she could read my mind. “They say this year’s vintage will be a mediocre one, but the sight is lovely, nonetheless. Don’t you agree, Mr. . . .”
“Hans,” I replied curtly. The prospect was indeed a lovely one, but I wanted to leave. Making some excuse I guided Anna by the elbow toward the stairs and we left.
“That wasn’t polite of you,” she said dryly.
“Honey, I’ve had enough of people who can read your mind. When I want it done I’ll go to a mind reader.”
“I happen to be one and I can tell you what you’re thinking is false. Listen to what the big bell says: ‘We are all strangers on our own turf, in our own time.’ You should have paid attention. Now adjustments will have to be made.”
John Ashbery, “If You Said You Would Come With Me” from Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems. Copyright © 2007 by John Ashbery. Reprinted with the permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc. on behalf of the author.
Source: Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems
(The Ecco Press, 2007)