Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Writing through Aesop

Ray Johnson buys shoes at J.C. Penney
To haunt a beach

Where a gull he names

Stalks a horseshoe crab named

“Why don’t you walk sideways?”
The gull asks the crab.

Because I cannot fly.
“Want me to teach you?” Asks


I could get crabby. “What
great shoes you have,”

Robin tells Ray.
I cannot swim with them.
_____ _____

Crab: A bug once said to an ox:
How come a big strong fellow like you

Is content to serve mankind
And do all their hard work for them

While I, who am no bigger than you see,
Live on their bodies

And drink my fill of their blood,
And never do a stroke at all.

To which the ox replied:
“Men are very kind to me

And so I am grateful to them--
They feed and house me well

And every now and then they show their love
By patting me on the neck.”

“They’d pat me too” said the bug
“If I let them, but I take care they

Don’t, or there’d be

Is that the ox who --
Asked Ray

--who was yoked with a horse.
The farmer whipped his poor makeshift team

Across the stubble field
The whole hot April day.

As the sun finally set
And the yoke and muzzle dropped

The horse asked the ox
‘Who will carry the ploughman home?’

The ox had surprise written
On his face: Why

Said he
you to be sure of course.
_____ _____

“Yuh, that’s the same ox,”
Said the crab, in whose mouth

Appeared a toothpick.
“Started to lose weight.

The farmer has a mean dog
Who likes to sleep in the manger

And whenever the ox
Goes to eat

He growls and snaps and won’t let him.’’
“What a selfish beast!” said Robin

“He can’t eat oats and yet
Won’t let those eat who can.

What’s this dog’s name?”
“Ashbery,” answered the crab.

“Oh Ashbery,” said Ray.
“He’s given me a lot of trouble too.

I used to visit the grape arbor
With the intention of repast

And Ashbery would bark
And I’d have to run off, hungry.

But I now believe those grapes are sour.”
“Things always work out,” said the crab.

“Uh hun, uh hun,” said Ray.

Calling John Ashbery a dog-in-the-manger in 1976 was a bad politico-literary political move. Ashbery had stood me up for an interview and I thought that was a witty way of expressing my displeasure. It took him many years to forgive me

Just for the sake of comparison, my own “study” of Aesop follows my common practise of couplets with a lone line as fulcrum. Couplets are a stock poetic form. I adapt six fables to the contemporary art and literary scene as I saw it as a young man twenty five years ago. John Cage was already besieged by requests from editors and publishers and created his esoteric version of the acrostic to mystify and ultimately, perhaps, discourage the publishers. Imitating Ezra Pound and John Cage, we can all be re-write men.


Blogger Halvard Johnson said...


Good to find the Cage material. I hope you'll be posting more of it here. Living in Westbeth, I once met Cage in an elevator. He was coming down (I assume) from the 11th floor, where Merce Cunningham's dance studio is, and I got on at the 6th, where Lynda and I live. Alone in the elevator we shared the silence until we were passing the 2nd floor, where I said, "I like your music." He smiled that Cagean smile and said, "Thank you."

The first and last time I ever met him.


6:41 AM  

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