Seven Poems by Anne Carson

Seven “Short Talks” on topics such as Chromo-luminarism, Major and Minor, Geisha, Vicuñas, Trout, The Rules of Perspective, and Homo Sapiens by Anne Carson.

BOMB 20 Summer 1987
020 Summer 1987
​Todd Watts

Todd Watts, Urban Asteroids (Dimensional Abstraction), 1986, silver print. Courtesy of P.P.O.W.

Short Talk On Chromo-luminarism

Sunlight slows down Europeans. Look at all those
spellbound people in Seurat. Look at Monsieur,
sitting deeply. Where does a European go when he
is ‘lost in thought’? Seurat has painted that
place—the old dazzler! It lies on the other
side of attention, a long lazy boatride from here.
It is A Sunday rather than A Saturday afternoon
there. Seurat has made this clear by a special
method. “Ma méthode,” he called it, rather testily,
when we asked him. He caught us hurrying through
the chill green shadows like adulterers. The
river was opening and closing its stone lips.
The river was pressing Seurat to its lips.

Short Talk on Geisha

The question of geisha and sex has always been complex.
Some do, some don’t. In fact, as you know, the first
geisha were men (jesters and drummers). Their risky
patter made the guests laugh. But by 1780 “geisha”
meant woman and the glamorous business of the tea
houses had been brought under government control.
Some geisha were artists and called themselves
“white”. Others with nicknames like “cat” and
“tumbler” set up shacks every night on the wide
river bed, to vanish by dawn. The important
thing was, someone to yearn for. Whether the
quilt was long, or the night was too long, or
you were given this place to sleep or that
place to sleep, someone to wait for until
she is coming along and the grass is stirring,
a tomato in her palm.

Short Talk on Major and Minor

Major things are wind, evil, a good fighting horse,
prepositions, inexhaustible love, the way people
choose their king. Minor things include dirt,
the names of schools of philosophy, mood and
not having a mood, the correct time. There
are more major things than minor things
overall, yet there are more minor things
than I have written here, but it is
disheartening to list them. When I
think of you reading this I do not
want you to be taken captive,
separated by a wire mesh lined with glass
from your life itself, like some Elektra.

Short Talk on Vicuñas

A mythical animal, the vicuña fares well
in the volcanic regions of northern Peru.
Light thunders down on it, like Milton
at his daughters. Hear that?—they
are counting under their breath.
Think about style of life for a
moment. When you take up your
axe, listen. Hoofbeats. Wind.
It is they who make us at home
here, not the other way around.

Short Talk on Trout

In haiku there are various sorts of expressions
about trout—“autumn trout” and “descending
trout” and “rusty trout” are some I have heard.
“Descending trout” and “rusty trout” are trout
that have laid their eggs. Worn out, completely
exhausted, they are going down to the sea. Of
course there were occasionally trout that spent
the winter in deep pools. These were called
“remaining trout.”

Short Talk on The Rules of Perspective

A bad trick. Ghastly mistake. Downright
dishonesty. These are the views of Braque.
Why? Braque rejected perspective. Why?
Someone who spends his life drawing profiles
will end up believing that man has one eye,
Braque felt. Braque wanted to take full
possession of objects. He has said as much
in published interviews. Watching the small
shiny planes of the landscape recede out of
his grasp filled Braque with loss. So he
smashed them. “Nature morte,” said Braque.

Short Talk on Homo Sapiens

With small cuts Cro-Magnon man recorded
the moon’s phases on the handles of his
tools, thinking about her as he worked.
Animals. Horizon. Face in a pan of
water. In every story I tell comes
a point where I can see no further.
I hate that point. It is why they
call storytellers blind—a taunt.

Anne Carson is an expatriate (Canadian) professor of Classics at Princeton University and author of Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay (Princeton University Press) as well as various poetry (in Grand Street, the Quarterly Review of LiteratureNorth Dakota Quarterly, and others). She is presently a Rockefeller Scholar in Residence at the 92nd St. Y in New York City.

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Read the issue
020 Summer 1987