John Ashbery

The Ecstasy

We wandered in and out of the lobby
of a large house in history.
There was little to see at first.
then our eyes growing accustomed to the darkness
we could make out figures on a bridge
who waved to us, seeming to want us to come nearer.

We decided not to do that.
You thought the place was scary.
I found it relaxing, invigorating even.
There was a smell of that kind of musk
that is less than a warning, more than a confirmation.
The furniture was all of a piece,
alas; the air moved nearer.
It was my breathing as I had often feigned it.

Going down the slope the next day
there was nothing in the brilliant, awful annals
that let us see
just to the margin, and no further.
I want out now.
I have traveled in this country
longer than anyone should, or has.
It’s natural to want a little sweetness
along with one’s hunger, to put nothing aside
for the blistery winter when friendships come unknotted
like tie-dyed scarves, and the weathervane’s a mate,
only you can’t see it pointing backwards.

We left early for the reception,
though swooning and sherbets no longer seemed viable.
and there was a hidden tax in all this.
Yet we stayed, longer and longer. The dancing came to an end,
then started up again, one had no say in the matter.
In the morning it was warm, period. I went out on some pretext
and stayed for twenty years.
When I returned you asked if I had forgotten anything,
and I answered no, only the milk. Which was the truth.