Unusual Precautions

John Ashbery

“We, we children, why our lives are circumscribed, circumferential;
Close, too close to the center, we are haunted by perimeters
And our lives seem to go in and out, in and out all the time,
As though yours were diagonal, vertical, shallow, chopped off

At the root like the voice of the famous gadfly: ‘Oh! Aho!’ it
Sits in the middle of the roadway. That’s it. Worry and brown
Stain it by infusion. There aren’t enough tags at the end,
And the grove is blind, blossoming, but we are too porous to
        hear it.

It’s like watching a movie of a nightmare, the many episodes
That defuse the thrust of what comes to us. The girl who juggled
        Indian clubs
Belongs again to the paper space that backs the black
Curtain, as if there were a reason to have paid for these seats.

Tomorrow you’ll be walking in a white park. Our interests
Are too close for us to see. There seems to be no
Necessity for it, yet in walking, we too, around, and all around
We’ll come to one, where the street crosses your name, and feet
       run up it.”

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:
January 1, 1981


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