from After

(John Ashbery, Worsening Situation)

As one broken upon a wheel, or dropped
from a great height upon jagged rocks,
I have watched this murmuration,
this perturbation, and have felt my limbs
grow numb, however great my desire for flight.
Will you then concede that what you call
this vague disturbance is really something more?
The party will go on till dawn, each of us
having our moment on the dance floor, until
the neighbors, having had quite enough,
call the cops and shut the whole thing down.

You had begun to tell me of your unlikely
childhood, the abduction, the ransom,
the return to the mansion where your parents
worked, though they were often mistaken
for the owners of the estate. It was another
disaster, but strangely trivial in the passage
of the years. The forest walks were never
really frightening, for you had come to expect
that some wild beast or witch, crossing
your path, was only an illustration,
a drawing in a book that you willingly
put down upon being called to dinner.

Meanwhile the festivities continue.
Everything depends on your continued
anonymity, the vague nod of recognition
and the immediate forgetfulness of one
or another passerby. This is how we win
their approval on the days we have come
to expect, the days when the inspectors
roll up in their limousine. They take
their time, almost strolling through
each room, and saving a few minutes
at the end of their visit for a question
or two. This is how we answer them.


Norman Finkelstein is a poet and critic. His most recent books are a collection of poems, Further Adventures (Dos Madres Press), and a volume of selected essay, To Go Into the Words (University of Michigan Press). He writes and edits the poetry review blog Restless Messengers.