Ode to John Ashbery
after “The Journey” by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you’d been put there to do,
and did it
while the loud voices rang louder
and tugged at your sleeve,
each cry a death cry, a flashing red sign.
But you knew.
You knew what you had to do,
though the thread unwound round you
leaving you nakeder and nakeder,
its melancholy terrible.
Then the queerest thing happened.
Being almost already too late, and too dark,
the moon threw down
a bird, a
shining wild raven and in its mouth,
a flower of life.
The stars burned in its brilliance,
at first saw themselves shyly
then danced and shone round to
find themselves extraordinary.
Fear shook you. Your hand trembled.
It held the flower to your eye
and for the first time
you saw the horizon’s expanse.
It wasn’t bleak after all.
It reached out its hand and shook you
with its meandering seasons.
You didn’t fear the
spring silver and ravished autumn gold.
Winter monotones bled upside down into
pink clouds of ripe peaches.
Each season descended accordingly
on marble stones until no one
could gather the fragments,
its beauty so faultless
no one would want to.
You looked up at the stars
if a gale blew and tried to take all of them away
when it became time to go
none of them would leave without you.
They would say, We are all one here
and if one of us goes the others will not go.
They looked at you from the tree tops down to the
little branches, watching you swing back and forth.
The stars whispered this to you.
You started to forget.
You forgot the dark voices,
for your willful progress.
A quiet tremor,
the first of its nature
rose slowly inside you.
The bird took back
the flower and flew.
Stars smiled at is as if they knew how,
the moon too
and no one was startled.
For the first time it seemed
you knew how to
save the only life you could save.
Lisa Keeton is a third-year candidate in the Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Her poetry has been published at San Antonio Review, Kalopsia Lit, and River Bluff Review, and is in consideration at small presses nation- wide. She is working on writing her first book of poetry.
[image: John Ashbery by Peter Hujar | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution]