Loving Mad Tom

John Ashbery

As appears on pages 16-17 of
Houseboat Days
Viking, 1977

You thought it was wrong. And afterwards
When everyone had gone out, their lying persisted in your ears,
Across the water. You didn’t see the miserable dawns piled up,
One after the other, stretching away. Their word only
Waited for you like the truth, and sometimes
Out of a pure, unintentionally song, and your zeal could see
To the opposite shore, where it was all coming true.

Then to lay it down like a load
And take up the dream stitching again, as though
It were still old, as on a bright, unseasonably cold
Afternoon is a dream past living. Best to leave it there
And quickly tiptoe out. The music ended anyway. The occasions
In your arms went along with it and seemed
To supply the necessary sense. But like
A farmhouse in the city, on some busy, deserted metropolitan avenue,
It was all too much in the way it fell silent,
Forewarned, as though an invisible face looked out
From hooded windows, as the rain suddenly starts to fall
And the lightning goes crazy, and the thunder faints dead away.

That was a way of getting here,
He thought. A spear of fire, a horse of air,
And the rest is done for you, to go with the rest,
To match up with everything accomplished until now.
And always one stream is pointing north
To reeds and leaves, and the stunned land
Flowers in dejection. This station in the woods,
How was it built? This place
Of communicating back along the way, all the way back?
And in an orgy of minutes the waiting
Seeks to continue, to begin again,
Amid bugs, the barking of dogs, all the
Maddening irregularities of trees, and night falls anyway.

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