Routines of Quiet Girls

in Ark Review by

My favorite poem by Anne Carson is in Autobiography of Red:

Arrow means kill It parted Geryon’s skull like a comb Made

The boy neck lean At an odd slow angle sideways as when a

Poppy shames itself in a whip of Nude breeze

And then later:

He felt Herakles’ hand move on his thigh and Geryon’s

head went back like a poppy in a breeze

as Herakles’ mouth came down on his and blackness sank through him.

 

I think of a picture of her: black leather jacket (her brothers?). grey hair (her own). clear eyes.

 

I’m trying to picture a landscape she writes about, the moor, only location is “up north”. Canada. For some reason I keep thinking of milk. To drink it straight out of the bottle in the gleam light from the refrigerator late night. Sweet soft whiteness. The thick liquid you used to clean your face with when you couldn’t sleep. Not as badly looking as you could be.

 

The unusedness of a heart.

 

In The Glass Essay, Anne Carson quotes Charlotte writings on her sister Emily Brönte: Emily is in the parlour brushing the carpet. Telling us she died on the sofa at home at 2 pm on a winter afternoon in her thirty-first year. This life of melodramatic monotony seems both appealing and repulsive, like the sweetness of a damp melon or the routine of walking by the moor early morning, which both Anne Carson and Emily aren’t reluctant to do.

The Glass Essay is in short about a woman losing her lover, but it’s also about whaching (a misspelling by Emily). Whaching basically means breaking. It means being in the life society has set out for you with a crooked smile on your face, unwashed and slimy, standing at the party alone like a broken flower losing your mind. It is the opposition of not doing much, but feeling a little out of place. Brushing the carpet. This is about restrictions too.

In The Glass Essay she writes, It is as if we have all been lowered into an atmosphere of glass./ Now and then a remark trails through the glass./ Taxes on the back lot. Not a good melon,// too early for melons.

 

I tried making a list of associations of The Glass Essay:

Silence. the moor. ice. feeling locked. glass. mirrors. surfaces. fragility. silverware.

A cold that sneaks up on your back, shyness.

Standing up at a party trying to cover your shoulders against the wallpaper, feeling naked and abandoned, trying to cool down.

 

There is no point talking about Anne Carson without talking about Sappho, I adore her. Her fragments were translated by Anne Carson, in a book called If not, Winter. In the pretext Anne Carson writes, It seems that she knew and loved women as deeply as she did music. Can we leave the matter there?

What is known about Sappho is she was a Greek poet, she sung on her lyre, she was born before Plato, before Socrates, before Greek writing, 700 bc.

 

They are similar in the way they are both euphoric in their unhappiness, living this dumb life of solitude.

Sappho, more flamboyant. Anne Carson, slower.

Sappho writes, all,/ but different/ hair of her lovers I assume. She makes jokes so dry they aren’t funny. Sweetbitter, she writes.

Anne Carson writes, This/ slow/ day/ moves/ Along the room

They are similar in the way they are both tempered and underplayed, restricted in their emotions, not in a way that is necessarily demeaning, but more kindly like quiet girls.

 

Scratching wallpaper.

 

Those grey coasters.

 

I want to make a note of how Anne Carson language is structured, the sentences floating together. She uses next to no punctuation or only whenever punctuation is needed. She got it under her skin, (knows it by vein).

 

I reread her most likeable work of fiction, Autobiography of Red, a tale about the little red monster Geryon and the hero Herakles. As much as this is autofiction, it is a story of coming of age in love.

I noticed in both The Glass Essay and Autobiography of Red that statements on boundaries flickers. In The Glass Essay the limits are either in meetings between people or describing means of oppression. She writes, two souls clasped there on the bed/ with their mortal boundaries. In Autobiography of Red she writes, [Geryon would] lie on his back. He lay very straight/ in the fantastic temperatures/ of the red pulse as it sank away and he thought about the difference/ between outside and inside./ Inside is mine, he thought. In bad times the body becomes a shell, a place to hide, whenever you need a little privacy

The novel is a bit about the relationship between Geryon and Herakles, but mostly it is about their shared moments of distance, oddly parallel to each other. So what’s it like fucking him now? asks Herakles new boyfriend Ancash. Degrading, answers Geryon.

 

I sit in the lost inventory of my dinner table, ketchup and broccoli, from here on now everything looks stupid. Stranger girls outside yelling drunk, me sober, trying to grab this, something with my numb makeup-face, staring, sweating, too much, burning cigarettes.

 

The grandmother of Herakles is an interesting figure, she is first introduced in the heat of a summer morning, Herakles stretched on the grass making sleepy talk./ My world is very slow right now, Herakles was saying. His grandmother sat at the picnic table/ eating toast and discussing death. She has something mythical to her character that usually comes with old age. She says of Virginia Woolf, I remember the sky behind her was purple she/ came towards me saying why are you alone in this huge blank garden/ like a piece of electricity?

 

On Sappho again.

The title poem begins work/ face/// if not, winter/ no pain, which is one of her poems I like the most, concentrated not on intense (dense) emotions, but on routine. On the routine of desire she writes, dewy riverbanks/ to last all night long, miming the same stability of the heavy banks and a nightly affair. She also writes,

 

gentle Atthis and in longing/ she bites her tender mind

do I still yearn for my virginity?

and on the eyes/ black sleep of night

girl sweetvoiced

 

The collection of fragments ends with just a long list of one-worded poems that makes a poem of its own, a vine that grows up trees/ channel/ dawn/ lyre lyre lyre/ transparent dress// makeup bag/ holder/ crossable/ I might go/ downrushing

 

So what is this, to sum it up going in circles: the routines of quiet girls. The everyday duties that will keep you sane and break you with a silence you don’t understand. Taking medicine, drinking water. I want to go back to the picture of my friend washing her forehead – looking tired unaware glancing at the mirror with her oily face. Tiny grace.

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