In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

The Inequality Engine

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

Etudes Second SeriesJohn Ashbery
Vol. 34 No. 5 · 8 March 2012

Etudes Second Series

John Ashbery

470 words

A cloud blew up and like
that: OK fun’s fun but we’ve got issues,
to wait until tomorrow. At least that’s
what I heard, a kind of rushing
as of water over steep slabs. More ants to fry.
I was placed on administrative leave, you
had to be there, nevertheless it sucked,
went back years. No one could find the original
copy, there were bats in the belfry.
Finally one comes down to me and says where were you.
I was only asking. Or if he had been there recently,
why there were more rafters to be removed
before you get to the roof, the actual core.
So I imagined there was infinitely more
copies like these and that we would recover
all of them. A dormer of truth sparkled.

And we were caught up, embarrassed in the shine
that hadn’t meant to spear us away like that.
Parts of it were yours. When it came back
to the truth that was there, nobody could imagine
otherwise. Where once lack had been, now
was embarrassment of riches. The riches themselves
were embarrassed for what they had brought us.
So it was time to go, even if it was
that other time when nothing came in or left,
a period of ragged glare. And why not? Why shouldn’t
the other trap have sprung? Its vagueness was sweet
for once. No guest could have assumed a stiffer
welcome than the one we got. The deputy was frazzled
and his sidekick hamstrung, but all came up
for the cause, there was no fighting ways about it
as long as mercenaries shuddered and satin slunk
along the shores. After all, it was the way it had
been ordered. Now I want you to just sit over there,
it’s June in February and a passel o’
wild things be headin’ here. If that’s the case
I think I’ll just be off. Oh no you don’t,
you sit over there, and more’s the pity.

So hours and hours were spent tapping the studs
until the requisite hollow sound whooshed forth,
making monkeys of us all. And do you think the
boy on the gourd took any notice of us? Naw, he
was too full of himself to be another’s. The end
result is eponymous, like they say. If no name clings
to the door’s outside you are all free to pick up
your things at the cashier’s desk and mosey outward,
I suppose, if that is the kind of thing that gets recorded
hereabouts. Only let no man call the spire a skyscraper,
or angle for further farthings in the dust. Shucks,
a salesman can call that tune, honest injun, he
appropriated. It happened on a remote median, six miles from the world.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences