for John Ashbery
I am in your kitchen photographing the noon
light on your Ivory soap bottle and the lone spoon
in the dish strainer. You’ve lined up various kinds
of honey in front of a boom box, and we can hear
you breathing heavy with the physical therapist
upstairs. We are here to document your life while
you are living, though everyone refers to you in the past,
as if you were a ghost banished to the second
floor to do calisthenics forevermore. I note the die
in your little leaf vase, and persuade the archivist
to open the sheet music. You never play it anymore.
When a person goes, the archived mind goes
kaput. The best place to eat ravioli in Hudson?
The neighbor who broke the piano? The sculptor
who cast the dead-eyed gittern player in the foyer?
I am a voyeur peeling back your flimsy white curtains
to see how you spy on the world, notice a chandelier bead
hidden behind the damsel’s bust. A safety pin holds
together the rug. My mismatched socks look bad
against your Persian prints, so I photograph them
and all the mirrors I am in as if to say “I was here!”
sharing some fibers with greatness.
But I see myself in none of it, John,
the Parisian silk, the shock art hung crooked
over the chaise, the nutcracker with little fake nuts.
And I am sorry for the mismatched socks, really I am,
but your rug looked so lovely against my feet.
We are here to preserve your things
because we can’t preserve you.
-- Stephanie Paterik