Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape
by John Ashbery
Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (line)
The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country." (1-3)
The speaker tells us that the undecoded message in quotation marks is "the first" of several. But we never are told what any of the other messages are. Where's the second, or the third? The poem all but announces that it's a puzzle that can't be solved. A tangram is a Chinese puzzle with seven pieces, and a sestina is a poem with seven stanzas – see what we're getting at? You might want to consider whether Popeye is sending the messages.
And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish." (7-9)
How does Wimpy know the Sea Hag's thoughts before she even opens her shriveled mouth to speak? Maybe he has telepathy or is just really good at ready body language. Also, did you expect him to sound like a character from a British period drama? Ashbery is known for mixing different kinds of social speech.
But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. "Thunder
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched." (16-18)
This poem opens up all kinds of questions at the most basic level that can't be answered. For example, who wrote this note? Was it poor baby Swee'pea? We have a sneaking suspicion that Popeye might be responsible. We learn that Popeye has been exiled and is responsible for the thunder, so it would make sense for him to say that "thunder and tears" are of no use and the apartment exists only in his memory. Also, is this note another "undecoded message"?