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Birthday Poems

"Birthdays" [by Tony Towle]

Tony Towle


I wonder if Fernando Pessoa

when he wrote to W.B. Yeats for advice

about establishing a national poetry for Portugal

realized that they had the same birthday —

and if he had known, would that have

encouraged him to actually send the letter?

Forty-odd Junes ago I wonder about other things,

walking down West 18th Street, about to pass

the Chelsea post office, through whose door

steps John Ashbery, directly in front of me.

After a mutual startled instant, he inquires mildly

in his celebrated nasal intonation:  “What

are you doing on my turf?” — a reasonable question

since he knew I lived many blocks to the south.

Embarrassed, I answer, “You may not believe this,

but I’m going to see an astrologer” (a visit that Jean

my girlfriend, had arranged as a birthday present).

Instead of acerbic admonishment on the imbecility

or worse of astrology, he inquires: “It wouldn’t be

Eleanor Bach, would it?” Stunned, I reply: “Yes,

as a matter of fact it would.” While I settle into

relief, John informs me: “She does a lot of poets,”

and he mentions several who were well-known

(though not by me personally), and then of course

he himself; and he relates how she really impressed him

by persisting in a feeling that there was something

 off in his chart, something that didn’t add up. Finally

he revealed a personal fact that had been withheld

and she said, “Oh, yes, it all makes sense now; why

didn’t you tell me before?!” So now I was assured

by an esteemed literary source that my personal incarnation

of the stellar and planetary intricacies would be rendered

with astute professional insight. Confidentially , though —

and I never told John — I thought that Ms. Bach

seemed much too concerned with my “rising” sign

to the neglect of my “sun” sign next door, regarding

which, and doubtless by the merest coincidence of genetic

and sociological meanders of fate, I am a first-rate example.

- Tony Towle  11/22—5/23

Tony Towle neglects to mention that June 13th is his birthday (as it is that of both Pessoa and Yeats). Ashbery's astrological profile has baffled many professional astrophels, because Leo is his rising sign but there's a lot of Virgo in his chart.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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