Boundary Issues

By John Ashbery b. 1927 John Ashbery
Here in life, they would understand.   
How could it be otherwise? We had groped too,   
unwise, till the margin began to give way,   
at which point all was sullen, or lost, or both.   

Now it was time, and there was nothing for it.   

We had a good meal, I and my friend,   
slurping from the milk pail, grabbing at newer vegetables.   
Yet life was a desert. Come home, in good faith.   
You can still decide to. But it wanted warmth.   
Otherwise ruse and subtlety would become impossible   
in the few years or hours left to us. “Yes, but . . .”   
The iconic beggars shuffled off   too. I told you,   
once a breach emerges it will become a chasm   
before anyone’s had a chance to waver. A dispute   
on the far side of town erupts into a war   
in no time at all, and ends as abruptly. The tendency to heal   
sweeps all before it, into the arroyo, the mine shaft,   
into whatever pocket you were contemplating. And the truly lost   
make up for it. It’s always us that has to pay.   

I have a suggestion to make: draw the sting out   
as probingly as you please. Plaster the windows over   
with wood pulp against the noon gloom proposing its enigmas,   
its elixirs. Banish truth-telling.
That’s the whole point, as I understand it.   
Each new investigation rebuilds the urgency,   
like a sand rampart. And further reflection undermines it,   
causing its eventual collapse. We could see all that   
from a distance, as on a curving abacus, in urgency mode   
from day one, but by then dispatches hardly mattered.   
It was camaraderie, or something like it, that did,   
poring over us like we were papyri, hoping to find one   
correct attitude sketched on the gaslit air, night’s friendly takeover.

Source: Poetry (March 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2009
 John  Ashbery


John Ashbery is recognized as one of the greatest twentieth-century American poets. He has won nearly every major American award for poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Griffin International Award, and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. Ashbery's poetry challenges its readers to discard all presumptions about the aims, themes, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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