From the Observatory

When they had climbed the Valley of Thieves
and rested at the aleatory base camp
a horseshoe moon began to pierce the curtain of dreams.

It seemed there was something wrong with everything.
The greenhouse was ethereal and too far away.
A gnat ignited the harbour; it rose up gold and sloppy,
with too many seals to think about. The basement
was a dirigible. The Home Counties bristled at suggestions
of voyeurism and venery: ‘Was it for this you came?
To watch us writhe and cringe? Are you happy,
knowing the palace janissaries have subdued us?’

The cult of personality issued conflicting commands
that managed to puddle every surface.
It’s like it was before the flood: Nothing
is dry enough or wet enough. What’s needed is a sense
of invitation, to this or some other domed picnic.
But since we’re here, we might as well memorize the rules
for future reference. All other details
are as the exterior of this wall that reared us: ancient,
trapped in an understanding of the present, where submarines
gather, and evesdroppers ply their trade.

And the riddle
unknotted itself; the second agreeable ordeal began.

John Ashbery


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