Skip to content

It was a night for listening to Corelli, Geminiani

Or Manfredini. The tables had been set with beautiful white cloths

And bouquets of flowers. Outside the big glass windows

The rain drilled mercilessly into the rock garden, which made light

Of the whole thing. Both business and entertainment waited

With parted lips, because so much new way of being

With one’s emotion and keeping track of it at the same time

Had been silently expressed. Even the waiters were happy.

It was an example of how much one can grow lustily

Without fracturing the shell of coziness that surrounds us,

And all things as well. “We spend so much time

Trying to convince ourselves we’re happy that we don’t recognize

The real thing when it comes along,” the Disney official said.

He’s got a point, you must admit. If we followed nature

More closely we’d realize that, I mean really getting your face pressed

Into the muck and indecision of it. Then it’s as if

We grew out of our happiness, not the other way round, as is

Commonly supposed. We’re the characters in its novel,

And anybody who doubts that need only look out of the window

Past his or her own reflection, to the bright, patterned,

Timeless unofficial truth hanging around out there,

Waiting for the signal to be galvanized into a crowd scene,

Joyful or threatening, it doesn’t matter, so long as we know

It’s inside, here with us.

But people do change in life,

As well as in fiction. And what happens then? Is it because we think nobody’s

Listening that one day it comes, the urge to delete yourself,

“Take yourself out,” as they say? As though this could matter

Even to the concerned ones who crowd around,

Expressions of lightness and peace on their faces,

In which you play no part perhaps, but even so

Their happiness is for you, it’s your birthday, and even

When the balloons and fudge get tangled with extraneous

Good wishes from everywhere, it is, I believe, made to order

For your questioning stance and that impression

Left on the inside of your pleasure by some bivalve

With which you have been identified. Sure,

Nothing is ever perfect enough, but that’s part of how it fits

The mixed bag

Of leftover character traits that used to be part of you

Before the change was performed

And of all those acquaintances bursting with vigor and

Humor, as though they wanted to call you down

Into closeness, not for being close, or snug, or whatever,

But because they believe you were made to fit this unique

And valuable situation whose lid is rising, totally

Into the morning-glory-colored future. Remember, don’t throw away

The quadrant of unused situations just because they’re here:

They may not always be, and you haven’t finished looking

Through them all yet. So much that happens happens in small ways

That someone was going to get around to tabulate, and then never did,

Yet it all bespeaks freshness, clarity and an even motor drive

To coax us out of sleep and start us wondering what the new round

Of impressions and salutations is going to leave in its wake

This time. And the form, the precepts, are yours to dispose of as you will,

As the ocean makes grasses, and in doing so refurbishes a lighthouse

On a distant hill, or else lets the whole picture slip into foam.

Someone You Have Seen Before

John Ashbery

More from
Poem of the Week

Dzvinia Orlowsky

Wine of Angels

translated from the Ukrainian written by
Natalka Bilotserkivets