Far from the Rappahannock, the silent Danube moves along toward the sea. The brown and green Nile rolls slowly Like the Niagara's welling descent. Tractors stood on the green banks of the Loire Near where it joined the Cher. The St. Lawrence prods among black stones And mud. But the Arno is all stones. Wind ruffles the Hudson's Surface. The Irawaddy is overflowing. But the yellowish, gray Tiber Is contained within steep banks. The Isar Flows too fast to swim in, the Jordan's water Courses over the flat land. The Allegheny and its boats Were dark blue. The Moskowa is Gray boats. The Amstel flows slowly. Leaves fall into the Connecticut as it passes Underneath. The Liffey is full of sewage, Like the Seine, but unlike The brownish-yellow Dordogne. Mountains hem in the Colorado And the Oder is very deep, almost As deep as the Congo is wide. The plain banks of the Neva are Gray. The dark Saône flows silently. And the Volga is long and wide As it flows across the brownish land. The Ebro Is blue, and slow. The Shannon flows Swiftly between its banks. The Mississippi Is one of the world's longest rivers, like the Amazon. It has the Missouri for a tributary. The Harlem flows amid factories And buildings. The Nelson is in Canada, Flowing. Through hard banks the Dubawnt Forces its way. People walk near the Trent. The landscape around the Mohawk stretches away; The Rubicon is merely a brook. In winter the Main Surges; the Rhine sings its eternal song. The Rhône slogs along through whitish banks And the Rio Grande spins tales of the past. The Loir bursts its frozen shackles But the Moldau's wet mud ensnares it. The East catches the light. Near the Escaut the noise of factories echoes And the sinuous Humboldt gurgles wildly. The Po too flows, and the many-colored Thames. Into the Atlantic Ocean Pours the Garonne. Few ships navigate On the Housatonic, but quite a few can be seen On the Elbe. For centuries The Afton has flowed. If the Rio Negro Could abandon its song, and the Magdalena The jungle flowers, the Tagus Would still flow serenely, and the Ohio Abrade its slate banks. The tan Euphrates would Sidle silently across the world. The Yukon Was choked with ice, but the Susquehanna still pushed Bravely along. The Dee caught the day's last flares Like the Pilcomayo's carrion rose. The Peace offered eternal fragrance Perhaps, but the Mackenzie churned livid mud Like tan chalk-marks. Near where The Brahmaputra slapped swollen dikes And the Pechora? The São Francisco Skulks amid gray, rubbery nettles. The Liard's Reflexes are slow, and the Arkansas erodes Anthracite hummocks. The Paraná stinks. The Ottawa is light emerald green Among grays. Better that the Indus fade In steaming sands! Let the Brazos Freeze solid! And the Wabash turn to a leaden Cinder of ice! The Marañón is too tepid, we must Find a way to freeze it hard. The Ural Is freezing slowly in the blasts. The black Yonne Congeals nicely. And the Petit-Morin Curls up on the solid earth. The Inn Does not remember better times, and the Merrimack's Galvanized. The Ganges is liquid snow by now; The Vyatka's ice-gray. The once-molten Tennessee's Curdled. The Japurá is a pack of ice. Gelid The Columbia's gray loam banks. The Don's merely A giant icicle. The Niger freezes, slowly. The interminable Lena plods on But the Purus' mercurial waters are icy, grim With cold. The Loing is choked with fragments of ice. The Weser is frozen, like liquid air. And so is the Kama. And the beige, thickly flowing Tocantins. The rivers bask in the cold. The stern Uruguay chafes its banks, A mass of ice. The Hooghly is solid Ice. The Adour is silent, motionless. The lovely Tigris is nothing but scratchy ice Like the Yellowstone, with its osier-clustered banks. The Mekong is beginning to thaw out a little And the Donets gurgles beneath the Huge blocks of ice. The Manzanares gushes free. The Illinois darts through the sunny air again. But the Dnieper is still ice-bound. Somewhere The Salado propels its floes, but the Roosevelt's Frozen. The Oka is frozen solider Than the Somme. The Minho slumbers In winter, nor does the Snake Remember August. Hilarious, the Canadian Is solid ice. The Madeira slavers Across the thawing fields, and the Plata laughs. The Dvina soaks up the snow. The Sava's Temperature is above freezing. The Avon Carols noiselessly. The Drôme presses Grass banks; the Adige's frozen Surface is like gray pebbles. Birds circle the Ticino. In winter The Var was dark blue, unfrozen. The Thwaite, cold, is choked with sandy ice; The Ardèche glistens feebly through the freezing rain.
John Ashbery - 1927-2017
For John Clare
Kind of empty in the way it sees everything, the earth gets to its feet and salutes the sky. More of a success at it this time than most others it is. The feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone's mind. Then there is no telling how many there are. They grace everything--bush and tree--to take the roisterer's mind off his caroling--so it's like a smooth switch back. To what was aired in their previous conniption fit. There is so much to be seen everywhere that it's like not getting used to it, only there is so much it never feels new, never any different. You are standing looking at that building and you cannot take it all in, certain details are already hazy and the mind boggles. What will it all be like in five years' time when you try to remember? Will there have been boards in between the grass part and the edge of the street? As long as that couple is stopping to look in that window over there we cannot go. We feel like they have to tell us we can, but they never look our way and they are already gone, gone far into the future--the night of time. If we could look at a photograph of it and say there they are, they never really stopped but there they are. There is so much to be said, and on the surface of it very little gets said. There ought to be room for more things, for a spreading out, like. Being immersed in the details of rock and field and slope --letting them come to you for once, and then meeting them halfway would be so much easier--if they took an ingenuous pride in being in one's blood. Alas, we perceive them if at all as those things that were meant to be put aside-- costumes of the supporting actors or voice trilling at the end of a narrow enclosed street. You can do nothing with them. Not even offer to pay. It is possible that finally, like coming to the end of a long, barely perceptible rise, there is mutual cohesion and interaction. The whole scene is fixed in your mind, the music all present, as though you could see each note as well as hear it. I say this because there is an uneasiness in things just now. Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice it. The pollarded trees scarcely bucking the wind--and yet it's keen, it makes you fall over. Clabbered sky. Seasons that pass with a rush. After all it's their time too--nothing says they aren't to make something of it. As for Jenny Wren, she cares, hopping about on her little twig like she was tryin' to tell us somethin', but that's just it, she couldn't even if she wanted to--dumb bird. But the others--and they in some way must know too--it would never occur to them to want to, even if they could take the first step of the terrible journey toward feeling somebody should act, that ends in utter confusion and hopelessness, east of the sun and west of the moon. So their comment is: "No comment." Meanwhile the whole history of probabilities is coming to life, starting in the upper left-hand corner, like a sail.