“How to Watch John Ashbery Read Poetry” by James H. Duncan

they will roll in the Pulitzer Prize winner
on a wheelchair and you will stand there
and grimace at his age, at his frailness,
and you’ll wonder many things suddenly

about the swells of water down by the
pier—great fluid pyramids lapping at Manhattan

about what this man ate for breakfast and whether
or not he really wanted to leave the confines of his
home that day, or…

but now the Pulitzer poet
is looking around the room with his
large baby head lolling on his neck, amazed …
… maybe confused?

if this makes you uncomfortable, think

about Lady Liberty out there across the bay
half turned away from you in your glass temple there
on the coast, the house of poets

think of her staring out into the Atlantic,
waiting for no one,
maybe oil tankers or German cars,
French wine in green bottles

return your notice to the Pulitzer poet
in his wheelchair surrounded by MFA grads
as he reads a poem about human
degradation, or something …

degradation and ruin,
squalor and festering abominations

now watch the wavering paper-white hands
of the poet, who will likely go home to soft sheets
and a warm meal, and notice how they
move up and down like the waves outside,
the waves and more waves,
erode and rise and overcome

notice this if you notice nothing else,
and perhaps you won’t feel so bad
when you leave to find the subway,
or perhaps not—nothing is assured these days

James H. Duncan is the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of What Lies In Wait, a collection of eerie short fiction. In 2016, Dark Heart Press will release his ninth collection of poetry, We Are All Terminal, But This Exit Is Mine. For more, visit jameshduncan.com.

Image by Alexander Bobrov from Pexels

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