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The Village of SleepJohn Ashbery
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Vol. 20 No. 3 · 5 February 1998
Poem

The Village of Sleep

John Ashbery

347 words

Why, we must dye it then –

Would I like to stay here indefinitely?
We have trees to prune, cryptograms to decode,
it was all a blind running into the light –
She couldn’t say the word for ‘fish’. Nor are his genes undone
by what oafish submarines remain. Aye, sir,
Captain Nemo, sir, we’ve spotted the junk
in the roads up ahead. What! That spasm I created for my own diversion, now
it’s clearly emerging out of the octopus drool that so long enshrouded it,
while I, a nether spur to its district railway, am overrun with
coughing doubt for the duration, yet here I must stand,
a seeming enigma. Outside, life prattles on merrily,
like an embroidered towel, and would probably be too weak to object
if we decided to postpone the picnic until November.
I hear you; the arches under the embankment
are part of what I’m all about. I too was weaned from excess
in some silvery age now lost in a blizzard of envelopes.
How frostily jingle the harness bells!
It’s all we can do to keep up with the dunce’s velocipede,

while in a neutral corner of the quarry
the same binge of history is conning men’s eyes
into dogged superstition. So we must make sport of it,
reel in our catch while yet there’s time, but droplets
are exploding in the gutter. The gambling ship ferried us away
past larkspur, past concertinas, and the old name became visible again,
briefly, on the building’s dusty façade. I

thought we’d lost you. No,
I’m still here.
Do you want to jump out a shy window?
Little by little one took in the foxes’ keening:
It’s all right, it’s sober,
they chortled. This was just a plant,
it counts only for the next time,
and we in beach goggles, brilliant suspenders ... The party beast
in me says let’s abandon, cooler heads say dive,
dive like a frog while famous night is coming on,
like the blistered exterior of a sigh.

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