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Going Away Any Time Soon

I'll see you in my dreams she said
then they let the gate down
unplugged the coffee pot
It was time for my annual cure at Wiesbaden

What good are rules anyway
They apply only to themselves and other rules
This rule rules out this other one

The rule of glass, sleek and dark
was poring over my auto-autobiography
like an intensely private person
with hazelnut eyes

When it came time to invent, invest someone or something
you look to the urgent fallen petals
each imbibing its share of life's mystery
as a cat sips and turns away and sips some more

Little mystery are you good for anything?
No she says I came out in time for school
then went back inside to resist sleep
that is still coming as all my absent years are coming

The slower time speaks the less majestic its tower
the fewer bats warbling to interrupt
whatever domestic tasks we believe we have set ourselves
in a truth that is mostly underground

The settled rhythm revives ancient purposes
What did I think going out
and never a tiny random note creeps back in
but all alone a star weeps, watches in the drizzle

and the four magicians fell down.
One took a train to Pennsylvania.

One abstracted his gold hair
picked up a cushion and said

And how is it with you back where you are now?
How many worms to a dozen
How long how many of the others cheat seeing
elbows at this windowsill serious as bunting

on a cloudy day
Which of the antique manners has changed?
For as yet morning is a long way off
Puckered mists trash the hill ecstatic as lozenges

--John Ashbery

Originally published in the April/ May 1998 issue of Boston Review

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