A Poem of Unrest, by John Ashbery

Men duly understand the river of life,

misconstruing it, as it widens and its cities grow

dark and denser, always farther away.



And of course that remote denseness suits

us, as lambs and clover might have

if things had been built to order differently.


But since I don’t understand myself, only segments

of myself that misunderstand each other, there’s no

reason for you to want to, no way you could


even if we both wanted it. Do those towers even exist?

We must look at it that way, along those lines

so the thought can erect itself, like plywood battlements.

From “Can You Hear, Bird” by John Ashbery. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $20; 175 pp.) 1995 Reprinted by permission.