The Tennis Court Oath

What had you been thinking about
the face studiously bloodied
heaven blotted region
I go on loving you like water but
there is a terrible breath in the way all of this
You were not elected president, yet won the race
All the way through fog and drizzle
When you read it was sincere the coasts
stammered with unintentional villages the
horse strains fatigued I guess . . . the calls . . .
I worry

the water beetle head
why of course reflecting all
then you redid you were breathing
I thought going down to mail this
of the kettle you jabbered as easily in the yard
you come through but
are incomparable the lovely tent
mystery you don’t want surrounded the real
you dance
in the spring there was clouds

The mulatress approached in the hall—the
lettering easily visible along the edge of the Times
in a moment the bell would ring but there was time
for the carnation laughed here are a couple of “other”

to one in yon house
The doctor and Philip had come over the road
Turning in toward the corner of the wall his hat on
reading it carelessly as if to tell you your fears were justified
the blood shifted you know those walls
wind off the earth had made him shrink
undeniably an oboe now the young
were there there was candy
to decide the sharp edge of the garment
like a particular cry not intervening called the dog “he’s coming! he’s coming” with an emotion felt it sink into peace
there was no turning back but the end was in sight
he chose this moment to ask her in detail about her family and the others
The person.   pleaded—“have more of these
not stripes on the tunic—or the porch chairs
will teach you about men—what it means”
to be one in a million pink stripe
and now could go away the three approached the doghouse
the reef.   Your daughter’s
dream of my son understand prejudice
darkness in the hole
the patient finished
They could all go home now the hole was dark
lilacs blowing across his face glad he brought you

John Ashbery, “The Tennis Court Oath” from The Tennis Court Oath. Copyright © 1957, 1962 by John Ashbery. Reprinted with the permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc. on behalf of the author.
Source: The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (Ecco Press, 1997)
More Poems by John Ashbery