The Short Diary of John Ashbery's Mother

by Jim Tyack

MY son's works transcends the semiotic. I remember when he was a tot writing nonsense on the foggy panes of the basement windows in Bay Ridge. The Brooklyn skies hid the faces of a dozen poets in their cloudy heights, Whitman and Crane peering through the cables of the bridge.

Johnny's old man shuffled home from the freight yards half shot on Mutts and Jeffs he'd downed at the Shamrock, all song and dance, rubbing up against me like a goat on ginseng, but never following through.

Oh yeah, I remember Johnny's jottings; they'd get me stirred all right. Allusions to the Objectivists, Rakosi's penchant for Americana, Zukofsky's obsession with music. Sometimes he'd tape the windows, make a stencil of the single letter ''A,'' then dance around the kitchen with little Frankie O'Hara, improvising songs about Celia, prophesying Paul. He read Zukofsky's Little when he was only six years old, and called me the Baron till he was a wayward teen. Even then his favorite food was chulnt, a magenta mixture of horseradish and beets, and when he ate it he always scrunched up his nose, his eyes watering like the source of the Nile, and said:

    ''This should be the color of women's nipples in all of DeKooning's paintings!''

We never knew what the hell he was talking about then, but it all turned out okay anyway.

His father gave up trying to interest him in baseball when Johnny had the vision of St. Theresa wearing a construction hat, saying she was a reporter from Women's Wear Daily. It was then that Johnny's Pop called Diana Vreeland, and the rest is history.

Previously published in A Limousine to Nowhere (Street Press, 1994).

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