As You Came from the Holy Land

by John Ashbery

of western New York State

were the graves all right in their bushings

was there a note of panic in the late August air

because the old man had peed his pants again

was there turning away from the late afternoon glare

as though it too could be wished away

was any of this present

and how could this be

the magic solution to what you are in now

whatever has held you motionless

like this so long through the dark season

until now the women come out in navy blue

and the worms come out of the compost to die

it is the end of any season

you reading there so accurately

sitting not wanting to be disturbed

as you came from that holy land

what other signs of earth’s dependency were upon you

what fixed sign at the crossroads

what lethargy in the avenues

where all is said in a whisper

what tone of voice among the hedges

what tone under the apple trees

the numbered land stretches away

and your house is built in tomorrow

but surely not before the examination

of what is right and will befall

not before the census

and the writing down of names

remember you are free to wander away

as from other times other scenes that were taking place

the history of someone who came too late

the time is ripe now and the adage

is hatching as the seasons change and tremble

it is finally as though that thing of monstrous interest

were happening in the sky

but the sun is setting and prevents you from seeing it

out of night the token emerges

its leaves like birds alighting all at once under a tree

taken up and shaken again

put down in a weak rage

knowing as the brain does it can never come about

not here not yesterday in the past

only in the gap of today filling itself

as emptiness is distributed in the idea of what time it is

when that time is already past


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