A Call for Papers

John Ashbery
John Ashbery, Icarus, collage, 2010. © Estate of John Ashbery, courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

John Ashbery, Icarus, collage, 2010. Copyright estate of John Ashbery. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

It buttered no parsnips that it was raining
on some statues of older men. The call had gone out
and from all across the country, papers
kept blowing in. The little crazy guy converged
with a very interesting man who was right here
in an antique perspective:
The appetites were enormous, the provisions limitless.
Fifteen read their papers
last year at this time, the group said.
In the case of Boston-Cleveland or Hartford-Philadelphia
you don't get arrested for heavily kicking a sign.
But as daffodils and raindrop-preludes fall
from the symbol-laden heavens, you can be charged
for forgetting,
for ignoring the very basement of your and others'
ideas until they come at you like stray cats
and it isn't their fault. Remember that.

The scale descends
to a kind of landing, then descends some more.
Cooler heads prevailed
and something that the work was not resembling
gave you a distaste for discovery.
Whether I'm fooling around or not it is incumbent
on the brothels of history to raise up their sheets
and vote with a bean for or against capital punishment.
Don't you see
it's the only way to measure
the zebras moving to warn us,
reptiles in rep ties at the pass?
Carry on, crow.
Meanwhile sleep binds us lightly
so that we can easily slip away as the season
approaches on tortoise feet. Around the corner
of midnight, and a thousand miles away this morning?
What good are hygrometers, and what men need us
more than they need air or defense?

We'll see you at the end of the month! they cried.
Small waves broke as they re-formed
across the bay's lumpy waters
in time for this session and for the next
one and for the one after that.

John Ashbery (1927–2017) was a poet whose many collections of poetry include Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Originally published:
April 1, 1992


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