In No Time at All
after John Ashbery
No charges of treason — yet — so the property
remains untouched if not untaxed.
And surely bigger banks and asses have been broken
in half or into, making for happy thieves.
Timeless hands have made valueless change.
(Honey, here you are with a toothpick
when what’s required is a meat cleaver.)
The TV trays are all set up, dinner’s in the oven,
There’s raspberry trifle for dessert.
A robe awaits wearer, hangs limp and ill-formed,
gathers light and stillness and regrets.
The logic of wicks made for a proper burn,
patches of light illuminating the gray,
the house seems lighter if no less solemn
now that the departed has returned home.
The diary contains cries of every color,
an orchard of thorn and briar and bane.
The academy of the future has closed doors.
It is unwilling — books banned, curtains drawn.
From Mercurochrome, copyright 2001 by the author.
Editorial note: A week before our feature “John Ashbery and the Arts” was set to be published in Jacket2, Wanda Coleman died. She was sixty-seven years old. We felt it would be a fitting gesture to say a few remarks about her poem, both in light of its inclusion in this feature and its significance in Coleman’s larger body of work.
Coleman’s “In No Time at All,” written after John Ashbery, is a powerful ars poetica. Coleman’s poem shares a core value with Ashbery in its resistance against that which is “fixed” in place. Further, it may be that Coleman saw something of her own independent vision in aspects of Ashbery. The poem’s second stanza reveals more germane as well subtle affinities between both poets. She writes: “The diary contains cries of every color, / an orchard of thorn and briar and bane.” Yet Coleman’s poem and its aesthetic verve are distinctly her own. Her uncompromising voice reaches off the page: “(Honey, here you are with a toothpick / when what’s required is a meat cleaver.)” And from the first to the closing lines, as in so many of Coleman’s most striking poems, the stakes are of the highest import: “No charges of treason — yet” and “The academy of the future has closed doors.” It is an honor to publish Coleman’s poem here. — Thomas Devaney and Marcella Durand