Today’s 10 minute, unedited free write, based on the Daily Post’s daily prompt: Priceless
…I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
Today my Facebook feed is full of John Ashbery, a name I recognize as I should. But, if I may be brutally honest, I have no idea what his passing has cost poetry or me. I wish I did. I wish I could read his words and see some stash of treasure, some gold I could count and weep. But I can’t.
The poet himself said that if he were to turn his name into a verb, the verb would mean “to confuse the hell out of people.” If that is his genius than it’s little wonder I have trouble quantifying the loss. I’ve read poem after poem tonight, each one riding both edges, the doubled sharpness of priceless.
As I’m admittedly a poor judge of poetic “worth” and he would have made no claim to write for everyone, I don’t feel I’ve dishonored myself or him in this admission. Though perhaps I have shown a weakness: the inability to value confusion, mystery, and disjointed truth. I’ve always gravitated toward poets who say things artfully and indirectly, but those I sense who also aim to communicate something more than sound. In my own writing, even in my most puzzling poems, I try to leave a key, to not to hide or hoard what I’ve been given.
Perhaps it’s unfair to say Ashbery was hiding his coins in heavy walled vaults, but I have a feeling it’s not a characterization he would find offensive. In some ways, he was a craftsman of vaults that only the most enterprising thief could break (and even then, perhaps would not now how to value what she found once the door swung open).
I am no vault cracker. Not now, anyway. Perhaps someday, years from now, I will hear a small click, as I spin another of his poems in my ear and suddenly I’ll see what’s been behind the door or hear the beautiful sound the hinges make. I’ll know then what delight death has taken from us in John Ashbery today.