John Ashbery’s most recent collection of poems is Breezeway. (February 2016)

Cooler Temperatures

My favorite big slum was the matter if you need to be. It had a rhythm all its own. You’re the driver. Let’s wait a second, and get moving. Don’t get any on it. Was I ever! Refrigerate after opening. I …

Be Careful What You Wish For,

John Ashbery: Promontory, 2010
exurb. What were you driving at (when you said): Used to joke I’m in the retirement business. The snow is beginning to fall again. I’m wondering whether I should go out. How can you give orders when nobody is listening? A friend and two boys. Here where love was quiet …

The Enthusiasts

That building has won over everything.
Here in high school opportunities are numerous,
but what are they for?
You could live like a girl of thirteen
in a single dream,
quash outside solicitations,
go back to sleep every time,
wherever your suns take you.

The Sponge of Sleep

Why waver? He won’t stab me for
when we sat down widely pixillated
between the horizon and the lice.
We’re off to the sea, someone said.
Let’s direct it to us
and our various enjoyment. I hate it when
we’re made of snot one
minute, stone so simple the next.

Pride of Place

Past the gaga experiments to ginger high school thriller days I wheel fragile issues: a fight on there, bulbous antennae, a herald carved alone in the archer position—sweet! We had a few people over to celebrate the monotony of the new place.

A Modern Instance

In the republic of other things when we live in a bathroom, weird issues short out what sense orders for us. Like a tired research assistant, you chose to flap around, prompted by hunger, not being sure that the crate of plums arrived.

After the Flood

No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure,

Than a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web. Oh the precious stones that were hiding,—the flowers that were already peeking out. Stalls were erected in the dirty main street, and boats were towed toward the sea, which rose in layers above as in old engravings.

Tale

A Prince was annoyed at always being occupied with perfecting vulgar generosities. He foresaw amazing revolutions in love, and suspected that his wives could come up with something better than complacency adorned with sky and luxury. He wished to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and satisfaction. Whether …

‘Love Is Like Park Avenue’

Alvin Levin, early 1950s
I first read Alvin Levin’s Love Is Like Park Avenue when I was about fifteen, shortly after it was published in the New Directions 1942 annual.[^*] At the time I was beginning to explore contemporary experimental writing, thanks in part to the excellent collection at the Rochester Public Library, an …

Structures in Sand

They still connect (it still connects?)— the feeling of the middle of the evening as it is overtaken by its sides. And then everything must be taken up and washed and put back together again. Why is that so? True happiness …

Working Overtime

Where is Rumpelstiltskin when we need him? The glass is low, the bard, weatherwise, who wrote the grand old ballad of “Sir Patrick,” comes on all queer. Do you hear what’s happening outside? These days I bring the horoscope myself. One …

Episode

In old days, when they tried to figure out how to write the sweetest melodies, they fell on a bed, chewed the pillow. A moon rankled in the crevices of a shutter. In 1935 the skirts were long and flared slightly, suitably. Hats shaded part …

Summer Reading

With these lighter days a concomitant urge to scrutiny arrives. Signing in, my motivation palls, pusillanimous. Are we to take it inside the house? I have to go. Tell me another dream. The long events surface wider, farther apart, like autumn breakers.

Pavane pour Helen Twelvetrees

I Abrasive chores were a specialty. Then, suicide at fifty. Not a back street that didn’t reflect meanness, and somehow, candor. To be clasped by the awkwardly handsome Phillips Holmes in an open carriage in Havana: “St. Patrick’s Day, don’t …

Image Problem

A strayed reveller or two, nothing unusual for this time of year, zinnia season, yet one notices the knocking in the walls at more frequent intervals. One’s present enemies stir in the evening wind and atypically avoid the dining room. After the big names have …

Barbara Epstein (1928–2006)

Barbara Epstein, my friend and fellow editor for forty-three years, died on June 16. She did much to create The New York Review and she brought her remarkable intelligence and editorial skill to bear on everything that appeared in these pages. We publish here memoirs by some of the writers …

Days of Reckoning

Questions about the timing intruded. The last client before dawn was seen at a certain distance. Then they brought up   the whole other issue of belonging. Seems we weren’t welcome despite having occupied Hollyhock House for generations upon generations.   …

Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse

We were warned about spiders, and the occasional famine. We drove downtown to see our neighbors. None of them were home. We nestled in yards the municipality had created, reminisced about other, different places— but were they? Hadn’t we known it all before?   …

Mordred

Now I have neither back nor front. I am the way certain persons are who never tell you how they are yet you know they are like you and they are.   I was preternaturally wise but it was spring, there was no one …

Random Jottings of an Old Man

Like a fool, I let him into my house, and he began dropping jottings everywhere. Where once crepe paper flowers had been, jottings overflowed the basin into the water closet. Urban affairs had kept him— something about a rendezvous with kelp. “Hurry, the …

The Book that No One Knows

In 1983, the Quarterly Review of Literature celebrated its fortieth anniversary by publishing a book of writings by and about David Schubert, a little-known poet whom both the editors, Theodore and Renée Karol Weiss, had known during the 1930s. I contributed a short essay to the collection, in which I …

Crossroads in the Past

That night the wind stirred in the forsythia bushes, but it was a wrong one, blowing in the wrong direction. “That’s silly. How can there be a wrong direction? ‘It bloweth where it listeth,’ as you know, just as we do when we make love or …

Honored Guest

Accept these nice things we have no use for: polished twilight, mix of clouds and sun, minnows in a stream. There may come a time we’ll need them. They’re yours forever, or another dream leaves you thirsty, waking. You can’t see the table or …

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room. Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine. The oval portrait of a dog was me at an early age. Something shimmers, something is hushed up. We had macaroni for lunch every …

Tenebrae

For a little snow you get your asking price: the Ace of Wounds, star of tubs, brushfires from there to here like an afterthought, and this suddenly not all that you willed it to be. We marched in different directions. Once a week there’s …

By Guess and by Gosh

Even so, we have forgotten their graves. I swear to you I will not beat one drum in your absence. And the beasts of night will not forget their crimes, nor the others their roly-polyness. It was in a garage where tire irons jangled …

Weather and Turtles

The rain fell with startling regularity. Sections of understanding were imposed on the lake—a likeable but needy reservoir— and on that great instrument, the street. Okay, but can we have a little luster, here, please, a little texture? It’s like a weekly occurrence, …

A Waltz Dream

She wasn’t having one of her strange headaches tonight. Whose fault is it? For a long time I thought it was mine, blamed myself for every minor variation in the major upheaval. Then… It may have been the grass praying for renewal, even though …

Two Poems by John Ashbery

FRUIT AND TEA Let it come back to this: no child’s reason to intuit anything but innocence can withstand same; conversely the child is the irreducible lump all our most serious fantasies become when we have moved on to become older: no argument there. So it’s …