Editor’s Note: As of August 14, 2006, we are no longer accepting sestina submissions.
Six Kinds of Noodles.
BY STEPHEN BURT
You would have to have been reading John Ashbery
to have seen anything like this in a book,
and yet here it is in real life:
an almost already intelligible tangle
of verities, and an intimidating menu,
disfigured, almost, by all the things you can have
at once, though all are noodles. Have
you, too, been trying to keep up with John Ashbery?
Every time I check there’s another new book,
another entry—entrée—on the menu
from which I seem to have ordered my whole life,
and been served somebody else’s. Don’t tangle
with waiters here is my advice; the rectangle
of mirrorlike soy sauce, the soba you have to have
and the udon you lack should suffice: the secret of life—
as you might have sought, or discovered, in Ashbery—
is what you get while you are waiting. Men, you
see, are mortal, and live to end up in a book,
though once you compiled and published such a book,
who would be left to read it? The latest angle
claims that it would be more like a menu,
an ashen, Borgesian checklist of all you could have
or have had to pay for, or suffer, or notice. Ashbery
could write that (I think it’s in Flow Chart). And yet the life
we long for in all its disorder is not a life
of so many tastes, nor of fame; more like one good book,
and ginger with which to enjoy it. Jeffrey Skinner’s poem entitled “John Ashbery”
and David Kellogg’s “Being John Ashbery” both take the angle
that eminence is what matters. No. We have
had enough of fighting over the menu,
as if it were the main course; the omen you
seek, the bitter-lime tang of a happy life
to come, curls up amid the semolina or buckwheat you have
not chosen yet. Will it be prepared by the book?
Will it do for Kitchen Stadium? Its newfangle-
ness may be a virtue, Iron Chef Chen Kenichi, Auden, and Ashbery
all suggest, though hard to find here without help from Ashbery:
it’s a problem with which I have tangled all my life,
and I’m so hungry I could eat a book, though none are listed on this menu.
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