The Bushiness of Infinity

John Ashbery

It’s the change we’ve been waiting for:
You’re helpless but you can stand up,
It seems. Today lurches to its feet,
Streaming with clouds and news bulletins
In a lower but somehow clearer register.
There’s the feeling you should have gotten off
At the stop before this one, but also the feeling it
Doesn’t matter, that it will somehow be fun
If we don’t stretch the bow too taut.
There was a time when horses came out of the woods
And went back in. Nothing
Ever came to pass, through the archness of waiting
Disguised as eternity made it all like a home,
An enclosed feeling. What was behind the hedge
Stayed dark, and night was red fading
To orange at the hem: a distressed, shattered
Permanence. Trolley cars slammed by in it,
A new version circulated each day, and
By the end no one could remember how it got started,
Whether it was literature or something else.
A bunch of sly entertainments mattered.
You spent the evenings doing homework.

So much of it is open now.
We can leave the city, get lost in the split-level
Suburbs that surround it, impale
The proud, relaxed country that isn’t sending
Messages any more, because it’s our
Responsibility. Surveys will have to be made,
Censuses taken. And how do we live in a column
Of figures, yet another infinity
Of blades of grass drifting purposefully
Toward some bottom line, time after time?
But we were made to look out horizontally, keeping in mind
The minutes as they pass, respectful of the sum
Stopping at intersections, there and always too.

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:
July 1, 1985


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