21. Parallel Movement of the Hands [1]

John Ashbery

Don’t put me on the desk.I was afraid I was going to die very soon,on a paper spree. Any nice person willdie very shortly. It doesn’t really fit.A missing dog or donkey (registered)does the American state police talk showno favors, just as in the past you coaxedbelligerent sweetness from the hedge and thenit was gone. Color? Why no color?What did you expect from the microtonaloverlap of minutes? And then when itdid stand up, it was like nothing you ever imagined.There was an unshapely tuft where the chimes rangand forever after it was solid wall.Nothing so became it as its tiresomeleave-taking. We were all pretty muchdispatched to our different sectors when the truthhappened, and bombed yet again.What registers no vibration can’texpect to be named a consequenceor co-respondent if the peaceful enemy is reallycoming back to engage the shares that were laid downages ago and are now indistinguishablefrom gaps in the truth. See here,it seems to say, this is a consequence(though inconsequential) and all of what was firstonly by dreaming itself into position.It’s funny about dreams; theyhappen pretty much everywhere. That’s whyyou can’t ever be sure you’re in one,or out of it; why the rules of assemblynever apply to you in the present, only laterwhen the color of time being is finished anyway.

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photo of John Ashbery
Lynn Davis

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. He wrote more than twenty books of poetry, including Quick Question; Planisphere; Notes from the Air; A Worldly Country; Where Shall I Wander; and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. The winner of many prizes and awards, both nationally and internationally, he received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in 2011 and a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama at the White House, in 2012. Ashbery died in September 2017 at the age of ninety.

"With the publication . . . of Parallel Movement of the Hands, the uncanny sense that Ashbery is still with us continues, as five unpublished (and unfinished) projects are brought into a single volume, lovingly edited and introduced by Emily Skillings. . . . The poems in Parallel Movement of the Hands still chirp with the familiar music of Ashbery’s many-textured lyricism."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"Every word in a poem requires decision, but whether that decision is correct may be a delusion the author indulges if for no other reason than to move on to the next word, the next line. Ashbery recognized the porous border between decision and delusion, between finality and its seeming appearance. This collection of unfinished works allows readers to tread that border as well."

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