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A Voice from the FireplaceJohn Ashbery
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Vol. 34 No. 15 · 2 August 2012
Poem

A Voice from the Fireplace

John Ashbery

450 words

Like a wind-up denture in a joke store
fate approaches, leans quietly. Let’s see …
There was moreover meaning in the last clause,
meaning we couldn’t equate
from what was happening to us down the block.
We approached with some hesitancy:
Let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would.’
Wasn’t it April? Weren’t things more likely to last
in this or any season? Rhymes we like.
More than rhythm, they provide a life preserver
for embarrassing sorties. Um, some day we’ll be grown up too,
the desk lights not cancel the barge
as it approaches the corner of avenues.

Well, we
sweated that out. It amounts to self-importance.
Whether the sea is a vernacular one
only heroes can describe. Why don’t you pluck me one?
Seems they all rushed to the other side
of the deck, causing alarm.
Wind shrivelled the rags that were left.
Hold on a minute, we’ll get you aloft.
No sense taking up time with vellum sunsets,
he hears, and cannot stay. The whitish, gluey smell
of the forest imbibes our earnings in a dream.
Egg whites dry at room temperature.

In my mature moments I was robotic like you
but never cancelled my interest.
We all attempt starting out, yet few undergo
the first few days of orientation lightly.
Which is funny, I mean with so many around to project
enlightenment or entertainment. If you live
in a wren house you’ll quickly understand what I mean.

That, needless to say, was the last time
I heard from them. I continue to get their fliers
in the mail but the project remains uninhabited.
Flowers and goats cram the entrance with something
you can see over. The orange sea propels itself
lightly forward, ever in quest of spectators,
but you can only do just so much in the way of self-formation.
I hadn’t expected it to be otherwise,
yet it doesn’t seem right. Neither is it unjust,
only pro forma. Nights imply seasons
and much in the way of impish narrative, while in daylight
it’s a matter of getting flush with the pavement.

Don’t forget to check every box
on the front door and leave change for the milkman.
Too bad they spotted us. Like I say,
no jury will ever convict he or I. Off you go then.
An egg is a puzzle, a tree a piece of that puzzle.
I’ve had a pleasant but uneven time.
My helpmates could aver as much. Let us know
how much we owe you. The balloon is ascending
above ferns, teacup chimneys, striped stockings.
So long training wheels. I’m gone for three weeks at a time.

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