John Ashbery

Image by Miriam Berkley

Local Legend

Local Legend

Arriving late at the opera one night
I ran into Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum hastening down the marble stair,
swan-like. "I wouldn't bother if I was you," he confided.
"It's a Verdi work written before he was born.
True, his version of the Faust legend is unique:
Faust tempts Mephistopheles to come up with something
besides the same old shit. Finally, at his wit's end, the devil
urges Valentine to take his place, promising him big rewards
this side of Old Smoky. Then, wouldn't you know, Gretchen gets involved.
They decide to make it into a harassment case. No sooner
does Faust hit the street than the breeze waffles his brow,
he can't say where he came from, or if he ever had a youth
to be tempted back into."
The bats arrived. It was their moment.
Twenty million bats fly out of an astonishingly low culvert
every night, in season. I kid you not. After a cursory swoop
or two, they all fly back in. It all happens in a matter of
minutes, seconds, almost. Which reminds me, have you chosen your second?
Mephisto wants you to use this foil. It works better.
No, there's nothing wrong with it.

Hours later I stood with the good doctor
in a snow-encrusted orchard. He urged the value
of mustard plasters on me. "See, it makes sense."
Yet we both knew they are poisonous in some climates,
though only if taken in minute quantities.

See you again, old thing.

from Chinese Whispers (Carcanet, 2002), copyright © John Ashbery 2002, used by permission of the author.


John Ashbery

John Ashbery Reading from his poems

1The Instruction Manual

2Some Trees

3For John Clare

4Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

5What Is Poetry

6At North Farm

7The Songs We Know Best

8Landscape (After Baudelaire)

9Just Walking Around

10More Pleasant Adventures

11Hotel Lautreamont

12This Room

13If You Said You Would Come With Me

14A Linnet

15The Bobinski Brothers

16The History of My Life

17A Nice Presentation

18Disagreeable Glimpses

19Theme Park Days

20View of Delft

21The Lightning Conductor

22I Asked Mr. Dithers Whether It Was time Yet He Said No to Wait

23Chinese Whispers

24Local Legend

25Sir Gammer Vans

Books by John Ashbery