John Ashbery’s “The Short Answer”
Here is the text of Ashbery’s poem “The Short Answer” from his book Quick Question. This was the basis of a PoemTalk episode which can be heard and viewed HERE.
The Short Answer
I am forced to sleepwalk much of the time.
We hold on to these old ways, are troubled
sometimes and then the geyser goes away,
time gutted. In and of itself there is
no great roar, force pitted against force that
makes up in time what it loses in speed.
The waterfalls, the canyon, a royal I-told-you-so
comes back to greet us at the beginning.
How was your trip? Oh I didn’t last
you see, folded over like the margin
of a dream of the thing-in-itself. Well, and
what have we come to? A paper-thin past,
just so, and more’s the pity. We regurgitate
old anthems and what has come to pass, and why
dwell on these. Why make things more difficult
than they already are? Because if it’s boring
in a different way, that’ll be interesting too.
That’s what I say.
That rascal jumped over the fence.
I’m wiping my pince-nez now. Did you ever hear from
the one who said he’d be back once it was over,
who eluded me even in my sleep? That was a particularly
promising time, we thought. Now the sun’s out
and it’s raining again. Just like a day from
the compendium. I’ll vouch for you,
and we can go on scrolling as though nothing had risen,
the horizon forest looks back at us. The preacher
shook his head, the evangelist balanced two spools
at the end of his little makeshift rope. We’d gone too far.
We’d have to come back in a day or so.