Salt to Sprinkle on the Meat
Final Fantasy VII, Square, 1997
The presence of the political in Ashbery is not negligible, and those who would say so are not reading his work very carefully. These are indeed lousy times to be living in:
We so enjoyed having salt to sprinkle on the meat,
until it seemed none of us could be a worker or a welfare recipient.
cashing in on the laughs in the alley,
Melinda strums a thighbone guitar, the rest are off in the distance.
Daytime drowsiness, dizziness, headache, nausea, stomach upset,
vomiting, diarrhea, lightheadedness, muscle
aches, and dry mouth may occur
so long as we are in unreasoning variation to one another,
which might be repaired by dawn’s unsealing the tips
of tall buildings, so they sway to and fro,
in time with the maker’s rhythm. He had a plan
but it was too late to use it.
In 1996, Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. For the first time since the 1930s, the poor would be cut off from public assistance if they did not find work, effectively transferring wealth from the public sector to the corporate. This wealth transfer was fueled by a politics of racism and sexism. It’s unsurprising that in this world of narrowing options, being a worker is just as impossible as being a welfare recipient. This has to be read within the greater political context of neoliberalism in the 1990s. Enjoyment is relegated to a dash of salt. Jammed into the passage appears to be a list of side effects from medication. These are the side effects of living in a capitalist system where people are replaceable. If the “tall buildings” are taken to be the fortresses of American capital, walling ordinary Americans out from prosperity, then it makes sense that “unsealing the tips” could be a possible avenue of liberation. These symbols of capitalist wealth, naturalized with their environment, “sway to and fro, / in time with the maker’s rhythm” as if the buildings are continuous with nature and god.