In honor of John Ashbery

Dactyl Foundation owes much to John Ashbery, who was an active advisory board member from our earliest days. He  brought a number of talented poets and art critics through our doors and contributed to many discussions about poetry, history, science and art. Thank you, John.

In celebration of his life and work,  we asked Tom Breidenbach to dedicate a poem to his memory.


Lea Lay

—for John, in memorium

“These are amazing…” —John Ashbery, from “Some Trees”

Their sundry heights, the crowns
on some apportioned geometrically
about a slant echo of their stem,
the spindly chute the seed
attaches to in rows like fraying
feathers in a faerie arrow’s tail…
Their wispy lusters roam
from blonde to green slats
and dribbles interspersed
with ruddy motes—the browns
of flower husks whose prickly
nubs exclaim regalia’s symbols—
and on to woven sprays of umber
or a bristly and recessive blaze
whose ochre taunt evanesces
from sienna’s paler intonations
intermeshed in chiefly static
poise among the dun and lumpish
auburn tangles knotting
this fleece of sward winds burnish
at it brazes in the summer sun.
With tips like listing quills
scribbling a score of constant song
and a winsome spate of narrow
leaves that tend to curl
their pointed tips groundward
the tallest bob and bow
as though observing, or lean
in meekly fractured unison as
if repeating gestures of oblation
resembling the ardent arc
a just sovereign’s scepter traces
in conferral of forgiveness
or a duty. And soon the thrum
a plunging node of breeze effects
enjoins a clump to flange
in pliant radii extending
in all directions adjacent blades
are bent, these splat gyrations’
razzmatazz immediately yielding
to daintily exasperated do-si-dos
for but the hint of time remaining
before familiar nods resume
from near repose, a spell in turn
subsumed by a loop to looping
league of spirals reminiscent
of the drastically adroit maneuvers
a maestro’s baton at the crescendo
of a sheer lament unravels
as though to ape that host
of vernal tendrils twined with locks
sweetly sweeping within Elysium
a brow they loll and toss upon
as dew accrues to glaze this
sylvan glade’s chatoyant luster,
the paisley pox its drops deposit
on petals, leaves, and stalks
depicting each letter of these words.

—Tom Breidenbach