Sitting on a Desk Together at SMU, 1982

In memory of John Ashbery (1927–2017)

A girl moaning: I don’t
understand
“Wave.”

You said, Maybe
you should try
selected whitecaps.

I saw, on a flight
to Honolulu, plane-shadow
on whitecaps.

My eye tried them.
Yours could, in its sleep.
Others needn’t think of them

as waves
but as scratches
in the furniture,

light wood under stain.
Obscurity stains almost the whole
half-globe,

hemisphere. The wave
was running at something, a sea-wall,
a boundary that even as fallacy hurt

its nose, forehead. It left
bits of horn on the beach.
And you want that girl to pick them up?

There’s a bird crowd beachcombing.
Humans love
going to fragments —

it’s Greek.
Pocket the pieces, some too small
to fetishize but not to single out

from the grand
current of forgetting.
There’s something unclear for us each:

start perhaps with Cynddelw,
a person of long gentle thinking
the color of breaking day on a deserted sea;

or when it deserts its own, you’ll find
a boot — rust and salt leather
to give back, or dance in;

or should you take the liberty to trespass in the middle of that sea,
re-reckon — men lower nets,
greedy unconscious desecrating a grave;

or you’ll start muttering to remains of springy clams,
their umbones junked rainbows joined by tar,
and make thin sense of what you collect.

Faced with bounty of krill,
filter less with cerebrum
than baleen.

It’s what comes through the foam.
Here’s the take-home:
An octopus wears my wallet now.

More Poems by Sandra McPherson