Anne Carson Poems

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Apostle Town

After your death.
It was windy every day.
Every day.
Opposed us like a wall.

Book of Isaiah, Part I

Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah's ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah's ears with stingers.

Bride Town

Hanging on the daylight black.
As an overcoat with no man in it one cold bright.
Noon the Demander was waiting for me.

Town on the Way through God's Woods

Tell me.
Have you ever seen woods so.
Deep so.
Every tree a word does your heart stop?
Once I saw a cloud over Bolivia so deep.

from Pinplay

Choral interlude followed by Act IV.
How many pins can dance on the head of a god?
How many kings can you pin to the dance in my head?
How many dances left stains on the woman he was?
How many stains kept him quiet, O Agave!

[enter Agave exultant and covered in blood, carrying the head of Pentheus impaled on a lacuna]


Speak, Agave.

I've come with the pins.

We welcome the pins.

I stained them as prizes.

We prize them as kings.

How many kings—

did you rip the cheeks off?

How many cheeks—

did you pin to the delicate mouth of the mother?

How many mouths did she need—

to finish the meat?

Not so many.

A happy number?

A clever number.

A realistic number?

A frolic of a number.

[Agave raises lacuna high in one hand then lowers it gradually as her mood changes]

But then again,
actually, not much of a number.

If you think about it?

A dismal little number.

If you study it closely?

Just a sob of a number.

O Agave!


Your sob has a name.

How many names can I pry from the head of a pun?

Just one.

O my son!

[Agave tosses lacuna to audience with Pentheus' head attached]

Thunderstorm Stack

A bird flashed by as if mistaken then it
starts. We do not think speed of life.
We do not think why hate Jezebel? We
think who's that throwing trees against
the house? Jezebel was a Phoenician.
Phoenician thunderstorms are dry and
frightening, they arrive one inside the
other as torqued ellipses.


Omens are for example hearing someone say victory as they pass you in the street
or to be staring
at the little sulfur lamps in the grass
all around the edge of the hotel garden
just as they come on. They come on at dusk.

What was he thinking to bring her here?
Hotel Eremia.
He knew very well. Détente and reconciliation, let's start again,
thinking oysters and glacé fruits, it needs a light touch,
narrow keys
not very deep.
Hotel gardens at dusk are a place where the laws governing matter
get pulled inside out,
like the black keys and the white keys on Mozart's piano.
It cheered him to remember Mozart
borrowing money every night
and smiling his tilted smile.
Necessity is not real! after all.
The husband swallows his ouzo and waits for its slow hot snow inside him.
(so his wife told him at lunch)
scored his Horn Concerto

in four different colors of ink: a man at play.
A husband whose wife knows just enough history to keep him going.
Cheer is rampant in the husband now.
Infinite evening ahead.
Its shoals appear to him and he navigates them one by one
slipping the dark blue keel ropes this way and that
on a bosom of inconceivable silver - ah here she is.
The husband can be seen to rise as his wife crosses the garden.
Why so sad.
No I'm not sad.
Why in your eyes -

What are you drinking.
Can you get me a tea.
Of course.

He goes out.
She waits.
Waiting, thoughts come, go. Flow. This flowing.

Why sadness? This flowing the world to its end. Why in your eyes -

It is a line of verse. Where has it stepped from. She searches herself, waiting.
Waiting is searching.
And the odd thing is, waiting, searching, the wife suddenly knows
a fact about her husband.
This fact for which she had not searched
jerks itself into the light
like a child from a closet.
She knows why he is taking so long at the bar.

Over and over in later years when she told this story she marvelled
at her husband's ability to place the world within brackets.
A brackets-worth of mirage! all he ever needed.
A man who after three years of separation would take his wife to Athens -
for adoration, for peace,
then telephone New York every night from the bar
and speak to a woman
who thought he was over on 4th Street
working late.
And upstairs that night, which proved a long night, as he was dragging
his wounded honour about the hotel room like a damaged queen of moths
because she mentioned Houyhnms and he objected
to being ‘written off as an object of satire,' they moved
several times through a cycle of remarks like -

What is this, what future is there
I thought
You said
We never
When exactly day year name anything who I was who I am who did you
Did you or did you not
Do you or do
This excuse that excuse pleasure pain truth
What truth is that
All those kilometers
You're right
Never oh all right once -

which, like the chain of Parmenides' well-rounded Truth you can follow
a circle and always end up where you began, for

‘it is all one to me where I start - I arrive there again soon enough'

as Parmenides says. So the wife
was thinking (about Parmenides)
with part of her mind while throwing Ever Never Liar at her husband
and he was holding Yes and No together with one hand
while parrying the words of his wife when -

they stopped. Silence came. They stood aligned,
he at the door with his back to it
she at the bed with her back to it,
in that posture which experts of conflict resolution tell us insures impasse,
and they looked at one another
and there was nothing more to say.

Kissing her, I love you, joys and leaves of earlier times flowed through the husband
and disappeared.

Presence and absence twisted out of sight of one another inside the wife

They stood.
Sounds reach them, a truck, a snore, poor shrubs ticking on a tin wall.

His nose begins to bleed.

Then blood runs down over his upper lip, lower lip, chin.
To his throat.
Appears on the whiteness of his shirt.
Dyes a mother-of-pearl button for good.
Blacker than a mulberry.
Don't think his heart had burst. He was no Tristan
(though he would love to point out that in the common version
Tristan is not false, it is the sail that kills)
yet neither of them had a handkerchief
and that is how she ends up staining her robe with his blood,
his head in her lap and his virtue coursing through her

as if they were one flesh.
Husband and wife may erase a boundary.
Creating a white page.

But now the blood seems to be the only thing in the room.

If only one's whole life could consist in certain moments.
There is no possibility of coming back from such a moment
to simple hatred,
black ink.

If a husband throws the dice of his beauty one last time, who is to blame?

Rich proposition, drastic economy, hours, beds, pronouns, no one.
No one is to blame.
Change the question.

We are mortal, balanced on a day, now and then
it makes sense to say Save what you can.

Wasn't it you who told me civilization is impossible in the absence of a spirit of play.

Anyway what would you have done -
torn the phone off the wall? smothered him with a pillow?
emptied his wallet and run?
But you overlook
an important cultural function of games.
To test the will of the gods.
Huizinga reminds us that war itself is a form of divination.

Husband and wife did not therefore engage in murder
but continued their tour of the Peloponnese,
spending eight more wary days
in temples and buses and vine-covered tavernas,
eight days which had the internal texture of petradavki (ancient pevtros)
- that is ‘broken crushed stone, roadstone, gravel' -
but which served a purpose within the mode of justice that was their marriage.
Waiting for the future and for the gods,

husband and wife rested,

as players may rest against the rules of the game,
if it is a game, if they know the rules,
and it was and they did.

All myth is an enriched pattern,
a two-faced proposition,
allowing its operator to say one thing and mean another, to lead a double life.
Hence the notion found early in ancient thought that all poets are liars.
And from the true lies of poetry
trickled out a question.

What really connects words and things?

Not much, decided my husband
and proceeded to use language
in the way that Homer says the gods do.
All human words are known to the gods but have for them entirely other meanings
alongside our meanings.
Gods flip the switch at will.

My husband lied about everything.

Money, meetings, mistresses,
the birthplace of his parents,
the store where he bought shirts, the spelling of his own name.
He lied when it was not necessary to lie.
He lied when it wasn't even convenient.
He lied when he knew they knew he was lying.

He lied when it broke their hearts.

My heart. Her heart. I often wonder what happened to her.

The first one.

You want to see how things were going from the husband's point of view -
let's go round the back,
there stands the wife
gripping herself at the elbows and facing the husband.
Not tears he is saying, not tears again. But still they fall.
She is watching him.
I'm sorry he says. Do you believe me.
I never wanted to harm you.
This is banal. It's like Oscar Wilde. Say something!
I believe

your taxi is here she said.
He looked down at the street. She was right. It stung him,
the pathos of her keen hearing.
There she stood a person with particular traits,
a certain heart, life beating on its way in her.
He signals to the driver, five minutes.
Now her tears have stopped.
What will she do after I go? he wonders. Her evening. It closed his breath.
Her strange evening.
Well he said.
Do you know she began.

If I could kill you I would then have to make another exactly like you.
To tell it to.
Perfection rested on them for a moment like calm on a lake.
Pain rested.
Beauty does not rest.
The husband touched his wife's temple
and turned
and ran

Today I have not won. But who can tell it I shall win tomorrow.
So he would say to himself going down the stairs.
Then he won.

Good thing because in the smoke of the room he had found himself wagering
his grandfather's farm (which he did not own)
and forty thousand dollars cash (which he did).

Oh to tell her at once he went slapping down the sidewalk
to the nearest phone booth, 5 AM rain pelting his neck.

Her voice sounded broken into. Where were you last night.
Dread slits his breath.
Oh no

he can hear her choosing another arrow now from the little quiver
and anger goes straight up like trees in her voice holding
his heart tall.

I only feel clean he says suddenly when I wake up with you.
The seduction of force is from below.
With one finger

the king of hell is writing her initials on the glass like scalded things.
So in travail a husband's
legend glows, sings.

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