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ANNE CARSON March 12, 2013 LIVE from the New York Public Library www.nypl.org/live Wachenheim Trustees Room

ANNE CARSON

March 12, 2013

LIVE from the New York Public Library www.nypl.org/live

Wachenheim Trustees Room

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER: Over the years now, I have asked the various writers and

artists and poets and translators to provide me with a biography of themselves in seven

words, a haiku of sorts if you wish or, if you’re very modern, a tweet, and I asked Anne

Carson for her seven words, and this has happened quite a few times. I either get two

words, or I get twelve words, or I get nine words, at times I get seven words. In this

particular case I got twenty-five words and these words are not her words, but they seem

to define her, and these are the words of Hölderlin in his Hyperion and this is what she

gave me as her seven, twenty-five words. “A thousand times in joy of heart have I

laughed at people who imagine a noble spirit cannot possibly know how to cook a

vegetable.” Anne Carson.

(applause)

ANNE CARSON: Good evening. How nice of you all to come. I think usually they do

conversations here. That’s the residue of the conversation and it’s just me tonight, but I’m

going to read two quite different things, so it will be like there’s two people here, and I

will explain that. Some years ago I wrote a book called Autobiography of Red about a

red-winged monster named Geryon and that told about his childhood and adolescence

and adventures as a young man. Red Doc> is a continuation of the adventures of that

same person when he’s in late middle age. Eventually I’ll read some from Red Doc>. The

hero of Red Doc> is Geryon but now he calls himself “G,” the initial G. And there are

two noteworthy characterological features of G. One, he tends to doze off in the middle

of the things, not because he has sleeping sickness, but just he’s at that stage of late

middle age where there’s a lot to worry about and sometimes it’s easier just to go to sleep.

Two, he is fascinated by Proust and when the novel begins he has just finished reading

Proust. It took him seven years. He read it in French a little bit every day, all seven

volumes, and having finished Proust he’s now in that desert of after Proust. Those of you

who have read Proust will know what I mean, there’s a kind of glacial expanse that opens

where nothing seems worth reading and all you want is for Proust to start over again, but

of course he can’t and so you read, in a desultory way, things about Proust or criticism or

biography but it’s not the same and eventually you just give up and realize you’ll be in

Proust withdrawal for a while and then life will sort of go on in a grayer level. (laughter)

So in that interval G decided to write an essay about Proust, in fact about Proust and sleep

and more specifically the most interesting sleeper in Proust, who is Albertine, the

girlfriend in Proust, or one of them. The most important girlfriend in the novel. So I’m

going to read you G’s essay on Albertine. It’s in fifty-nine numbered paragraphs. He

numbers his paragraphs because it makes him feel like Wittgenstein.

(laughter)

The Albertine Workout

  • 1. Albertine the name is not a common name for a girl in France, although Albert is

widespread for a boy.

  • 2. Albertine’s name occurs 2,363 times in Proust’s novel, more than any other character.

  • 3. Albertine herself is present or mentioned on 807 pages of Proust’s novel.

  • 4. On a good 19 percent of these pages she is asleep.

  • 5. Albertine is believed by some critics, including André Gide, to be a disguised version

of Proust’s chauffer, Alfred Agostinelli. This is called the transposition theory.

6.

Albertine constitutes a romantic, psychosexual, and moral obsession for the narrator of

the novel, mainly throughout volume 5 of Proust’s seven volumes in the Pléiade Edition

work.

  • 7. Volume 5 is called La Prisonnière in French and The Captive in English. It was

declared by Roger Shattuck, a world expert on Proust, in his award-winning 1974 study

to be the one volume of the novel that a time-pressed reader may safely and entirely skip.

(laughter)

  • 8. The problems of Albertine are from the narrator’s point of view, (a) lying (b)

lesbianism, and from Albertine’s point of view, (a) being imprisoned in the narrator’s

house.

  • 9. Her bad taste in music, although several times remarked on, is not a problem.

    • 10. Albertine does not call the narrator by his name anywhere in the novel, nor does

anyone else. The narrator hints that his first name might be the same first name as that of

the author of the novel, that is, Marcel. Let’s go with that.

  • 11. Albertine denies she is a lesbian when Marcel questions her.

  • 12. Her friends are all lesbians.

(laughter)

  • 13. Her denials fascinate him.

  • 14. Her friends fascinate him, too, especially by their contrast with his friends, who are

gay but very closeted. Her friends parade themselves at the beach and kiss in restaurants.

  • 15. Despite intense and assiduous questioning, Marcel cannot discover what exactly it is

that women do together. This “palpitating specificity of female pleasure,” as he calls it.

  • 16. Albertine says she does not know.

  • 17. Once Albertine has been imprisoned by Marcel in his house, his feelings change. It

was her freedom that first attracted him, the way the wind billowed in her garments. This

attraction is now replaced by a feeling of ennui, boredom. She becomes, as he says, a

heavy slave.

  • 18. This is predictable given Marcel’s theory of desire, which equates possession of

another person with erasure of the otherness of her mind, while at the same time positing

otherness as what makes another person desirable.

  • 19. And in point of fact how can he possess her mind if she is a lesbian?

20.

His fascination continues.

  • 21. Albertine is a girl in a flat sports cap pushing her bicycle across the beach when

Marcel first sees her. He keeps going back to this image.

  • 22. Albertine has no family, profession, or prospects. She is soon installed, indeed

captive, in Marcel’s house. There, she has a separate bedroom. He emphasizes that she is

nonetheless, an obedient person, see above on Albertine as heavy slave.

  • 23. Albertine’s face is sweet and beautiful from the front but from the side has a hooked-

nosed aspect that fills Marcel with horror. He would take her face in his hands and

reposition it.

  • 24. The state of Albertine that most pleases Marcel is Albertine asleep.

  • 25. By falling asleep she becomes a plant, he says.

  • 26. Plants do not actually sleep. Nor do they lie or even bluff. They do, however, expose

their genitalia.

27a. Sometimes in her sleep Albertine throws off her kimono and lies naked.

27b. Sometimes then Marcel possesses her.

27c. Albertine appears not to wake up.

  • 28. Marcel appears to think he is the master of such moments.

  • 29. Perhaps he is. At this point, parenthetically, if we had time, several observations could

be made about the similarity between Albertine and Ophelia, Hamlet’s Ophelia, starting

from the sexual life of plants, which Proust and Shakespeare equally enjoy using as a

language of female desire. Albertine, like Ophelia, embodies for her lover blooming

girlhood and also castration, casualty, threat, and pure obstacle. Albertine, like Ophelia, is

condemned for a voracious sexual appetite whose expression is denied her. Ophelia takes

sexual appetite into the river and drowns it amid water plants. Albertine distorts hers into

the false consciousness of a sleep plant. In both scenarios, the man appears to be in

control of the script, yet he gets himself tangled up in the wiles of the woman. On the

other hand, who is bluffing whom is hard to say.

  • 30. Albertine’s laugh has the color and smell of a geranium.

  • 31. Marcel gives Albertine the idea that he intends to marry her but he does not. She

bores him.

  • 32. Albertine’s eyes are blue and saucy. Her hair is like crinkly black violets.

33.

Albertine’s behavior in Marcel’s household is that of a domestic animal, which enters

any door it finds open or comes to lie beside its master on his bed, making a place for

itself. Marcel has to train Albertine not to come into his room until he rings for her.

  • 34. Marcel gradually manages to separate Albertine from all her friends, whom he

regards as evil influences.

  • 35. Marcel never says the word “lesbian” to Albertine. He says, “The kind of woman I

object to.”

  • 36. Albertine denies she knows any such women. Marcel assumes she is lying.

  • 37. At first Albertine has no individuality. Indeed, Marcel cannot distinguish her from her

girlfriends or remember their names or decide which to pursue. They form a frieze in his

mind, pushing their bicycles across the beach, with the blue waves breaking behind them.

  • 38. This pictorial multiplicity of Albertine evolves gradually into a plastic and moral

multiplicity. Albertine is not a solid object. She is unknowable. When he brings his face

close to hers to kiss, she is ten different Albertines in succession.

  • 39. One night Albertine goes dancing with a girlfriend at the casino.

40.

When questioned about this she lies.

  • 41. Albertine is not a natural liar.

  • 42. Albertine lies so much and so badly that Marcel is drawn into the game. He lies, too.

  • 43. Marcel’s jealousy, impotence, and desire are all exasperated to their highest pitch by

the game.

  • 44. Who is bluffing whom is hard to say. See above on Hamlet.

  • 45. Near the end of Volume 5, Albertine finally runs away, vanishing into the night and

leaving the window open. Marcel fusses and fumes and writes her a letter in which he

claims he had just decided to buy her a yacht and a Rolls-Royce when she disappeared.

Now he will have to cancel these orders. (laughter) The yacht had a price tag of 27,000

francs—about 75,000 dollars, and was to be engraved at the prow with her favorite stanza

of a poem by Mallarmé.

  • 46. Albertine’s death in a riding accident on page 642 of Volume 5 does not emancipate

Marcel from jealousy. It removes only one of the innumerable Albertines he would have

to forget. The jealous lover cannot rest until he is able to touch all the points in space and

time ever occupied by the beloved.

  • 47. There is no right or wrong in Proust, says Samuel Beckett, and I believe him. The

bluffing, however, remains a gray area.

  • 48. Let’s return to the transposition theory.

  • 49. On May 30th, 1914, French newspapers reported that Alfred Agostinelli, a student

aviator, fell from his machine into the Mediterranean Sea near Antibes and was drowned.

Agostinelli, you recall, was the chauffer whom Proust in letters to friends admitted that

he not only loved but adored. Proust had bought Alfred the airplane, which cost 27,000

francs, about 75,000 dollars, and had had it engraved on the fuselage with a stanza of

Mallarmé. Proust also paid for Alfred’s flying lessons and registered him at the flying

school under the name Marcel Swann. The flying school was in Monaco. In order to spy

on Alfred while he was there, Proust sent another favorite manservant, whose name was

Albert.

  • 50. Compare and contrast Albertine’s sudden fictional death by runaway horse with

Alfred Agostinelli’s sudden real-life death by runaway plane. Poignantly, both

unfortunate beloveds managed to speak to his or her lover from the wild blue yonder.

Agostinelli, before setting out for his final flight, had written a long letter, which Proust

was heartbroken to receive the day after the plane crash. Transposed to the novel, this exit

scene becomes one of the weirdest in fiction.

  • 51. Several weeks after accepting the news that Albertine has been thrown from her horse

and killed, Marcel gets a telegram. “You think me dead but I’m alive and long to see you.

Affectionately, Albertine.” Marcel agonizes for days about this news and debates with

himself whether he could possibly resume relations with her, only to realize that the

signature on the telegram has been misread by the telegraph operator. It is not from

Albertine at all but from another long-lost girlfriend, whose name, Gilberte, shares its

central letters with Albertine’s name.

  • 52. One only loves that which one does not entirely possess, says Marcel.

  • 53. There are four ways Albertine is able to avoid becoming entirely possessed: by

sleeping, by lying, by being a lesbian, or by being dead.

  • 54. Only the first three of these can she bluff.

(laughter)

  • 55. Proust was still correcting a typescript of La Prisonnière on his deathbed in

November 1922. He was fine-tuning the character of Albertine and working into her

speech certain phrases from Alfred Agonstinelli’s final letter.

  • 56. Isn’t it always a tricky question, the question whether to read an author’s work in

light of his life or not?

  • 57. Granted, the transposition theory is a graceless, intrusive, and saddening hermeneutic

mechanism. In the case of Proust it is also irresistible. Here is one final spark to be struck

from rubbing Alfred against Albertine, as it were. Let’s consider the stanza of poetry that

Proust had inscribed on the fuselage of Alfred’s plane, the same verse that Marcel

promises to engrave on the prow of Albertine’s yacht, from her favorite poem, he says. It

is four verses of Mallarmé about a swan that finds itself frozen into the ice of a lake in

winter. Swans are of course migratory birds. This one for some reason failed to fly off

with its fellow swans when the time came. What a weird and lonely shadow to cast on

these two love affairs, the fictional and the real, what a desperate analogy to offer of the

lover’s final wintry paranoia of possession. As Hamlet says to Ophelia, accurately but

ruthlessly, “You should not have believed me.”

  • 58. Here’s the stanza of Mallarmé in somewhat rudimentary English: “A swan of olden

times remembers that it is he, the one magnificent but without hope of setting himself

free. For he failed to sing of a region for living when barren winter burned all around him

with ennui.”

  • 59. “Everything indeed is at least double.” La Prisonnière, page 362.

That’s the end of that.

(applause)

Thanks.

So that’s G as a researcher. I’m going to read Red Doc> some other aspects of that same

psyche. So in the myth of Geryon, Geryon is a herdsman and has a herd of magic red

cattle that Herakles is commissioned to capture, which he does, legendarily. In this story

G has a different herd, they are musk oxen. And he has a friend named Sad But Great

who goes by the shorter name of Sad, who is a veteran of some war or other.

Typical night-

herding songs gallop

their rhythms and tell of

love. G doesn’t usually

sing to the herd at night.

He may talk to them listen

stand in the herd. Listen.

That community. A low

purple listening but with a

height to the sound. Them

listening. They direct it up

and out. They stand in a

circle facing away from the

center and the long guard hairs

hang down to brush their

ankles like pines. Like

queens. Like queens

dressed in pines. Musk

oxen are not in fact oxen

not castrated bulls nor do

their glands produce musk.

Much is misnomer in our

present way of grasping

the world. But pines do

always seem queenly as

they sway so grand and

anciently from the sky to

the ground. Motion is part

of listening. As the night

goes on, let’s say he’s there

for a number of hours the

motion changes. At first

they just shudder a bit like

any large entity come to

rest but gradually

imperially they begin

swaying. Then as one

rhythm they pass the sway

from shape to shape around

the circle its amplitude

increasing its warmth rising

from knees to hearts to eyes

its pressures rolling across

the large loose joints of the

shoulders and down the

long bones of the hips until

at some point with a

phrasing as simple as a

perfect aphorism one of

them spins up off its shanks

and performs a 360-degree

spin in air and returns to

place. Slotting itself into

the undulations of the others

as firmly as temptation into

I can resist anything but.

He slips from thought to

thought. Wilde Wild

Wildness does surely attract

him although what he

knows about it is not much.

Knows with the oxen that

they prefer common gorse

to willow shoots and can

balance the topheaviness

of their bodies by plaiting

their feet as they walk.

While with Sad he knows

don’t mention warplay.

Funny word warplay.

Never says war or warfare.

I’ve seen a lot of warplay

he’d say. Warplay had me

pumped those years. Tip

of the spear. Flipswitch

inside. She hit the ground

75 saw the white bag 75

bullets tore her head off I

saw her hand. I wasn’t

going to tell anyone back

home about. Oh it found its

way out it surfaced. I had a

tan when I came home no

wounds no cuts. Everyone

kissed me. Sure I sat by the

fire I talked to the old man.

There were the smells. The

bone beneath. Sweat broke

out on me at breakfast. I

didn’t expect to come home

that was not in the plan.

Some point I guess the

brain cells just give out.

You read a hundred

military manuals you won’t

find the word kill they trick

you into killing. You get

over it it’s ok. You have to.

Fear not tolerated. Take

you out back and shoot you

they say. Her eyeglasses in

the grass. Standard

questionnaire. Fine just

say fine. Numb yourself.

Wire-frame eyeglasses. Does it feel

good at first yes. Play.

Guns. Fire. Animals. You

know the Carthaginians

liked to use oxen for night

fighting. I’m talking about

Hannibal I’m talking about

the battle of Ager Falernus

217 BC. Like tanks but

more frightening. They’d

tie lit torches to the horns

and stampede them toward

the enemy. The Romans

panicked. Some ran into the

herd. Some got knocked off

the path to the crags below

others tried to retreat and

were lost in the tundra

never seen again. But what

about I’m asking what

happens when the torches

burn down to the horn to

the hair to the head to the

bone beneath. So much

human cruelty is simply

incidental is simply

brainless. Simply no

common sense. You could

take the entirety of the

common sense of humans

and put it in the palm of

your hand and still have

room for your dick.

Now we go inside Io. Io is the name of the lead musk ox of the herd. And G’s favorite.

She’s waking up.

It washes her up from

the bottom. Slow fluids of

dark slide past each other at

different speeds. Light she

ignores. Waking is gradual

lines of dark into sounds.

They line up. Before they

do is a moment of terror

happening every day she

every day forgets. Dry

little sound is a bird’s

neckbones sifting into place

to sing. Its eyes open and

widen. Birds with bigger

eyes sing first. Rackety

every day to hear this every

day forgets. A passing

snake splits by. Reds leap

the clouds in a wind stirring

everything tall all the way

out over the river and

pinwheeling back as the

membrane cracks. Open.

The heavens are perfect.

Perfection sounds round.

Good morning good Io.

Bird drops its note into the

round and round the note

goes circling the wall of the

world and stops. After

stops is a gap she listens

down into for someone who

comes takk takk takking

along she hears takk takk

slow down and

hesitate and takk takk

takking past. Someone

insists and someone will

hesitate at this hour. With

the heavens perfect and all

gazes wet and the bird

drops another note into the

round and round. Coolly

every day forgetting

all but this not the

difference between this and

winter does she long for it

winter. Where waking is.

Where two cloven halves of

her hooves clocked in ice

and blood crisping along

arteries at minus twenty-

three degrees is a glory to

her. Winter exists and

winter is never soon enough. She is awake.

Now we shall meet the glacier.

At a certain point in the story G and his companion Sad find themselves inside a glacier,

sort of lost. And they’re exploring, down a sort of slot in it.

The ice fault is a slot

in the ice as tall as a man

that vanishes back into

shadow. A smell of

something brisk and

incongruous laundry?

sunlight? lingers at the

entrance. G drops to his

knees to peer in. Cold

stabs up through

his trousers. Sad has

retreated to the car and

started the engine which

echoes monstrously

everywhere. Moving out!

Sad yells putting the car in

reverse.

Was it Shackleton whose teeth shattered at something—

something below zero G

once asked his brother

the biochemist and why.

Because teeth are porous

and can fill with droplets

of water which instantly

freeze in subzero

conditions. The glacial

walls go tapering away

from him down the ice

fault. He plunges into a

world at once solid and

dissolved but weirdly

shadowless.

He is colder than ever in his life. Vein

by vein as separate

numbnesses. Heart

crashes in his chest

gelid wings clack on his

back. He can hear the

wings move but they are

someone else’s wings

and his teeth are in pain.

Freeze means expand

means shatter said his

brother. G closes his

mouth.

That old cliché

of polar adventure fatigue

flooding his body in

waves. This wonderful

longing to lie down surely

he’s been walking for

centuries surely he should

stop and rest a moment

against one of those satiny

planes of ice that allure on

every side. Cucumber

Shackleton spam why is

everything draining away

why this silver ebbing and

flowing not quite reaching

his brain. He is so tired.

Pour the honey into the

Jar. He dozes off. A sudden

violent sneeze shatters

him in all directions. Oh

he says aloud let’s not die

in the jar and with an

effort that seems to rip his

spine apart arches his

upper back. Stiffened

wing muscles pull hard

against their roots and

move into a lift. Pieces of

ice break from the

primaries and fall in a

shower. Again he strains

backward and up against

what seem like seams of

steel thinking maybe I

can’t do this but all, all at

once the coverts jolt

terribly free and the

motion begins. He is

rising. Air grabs his

knees. Out of black

nothing into perfect

expectancy -- flying has

always given him this

sensation of hope -- like

glimpsing a lake through

trees, or that first steep

velvet moment the opera

curtains part -- he is

keening down the ice

fault. Soul fresh. Wings

wildawake. Front body

alive in a rush of freezing

air. He opens his mouth

in a cry as red sadness

pours away behind him

and the ancient smell of

ice floods every corner of

his skull.

Why birds have no

arms -- if you are human

you fly with arms straight

out in front and horizontal

to the ground. To give

least resistance. Of course

it’s exhausting. Don’t fight

it just do it says G to his

arms. He visualizes little

pistons all over pumping

him forward and this helps

for a while but the ache is

spreading from his spine

in every direction. Down

the ice fault pours a steady

cold channel of headwind

against him. He knows he

is slowing and probably

looks ridiculous. Am I

turning into one of those

old guys in a ponytail and

wings he thinks sadly.

(laughter)

Something skims his

cheek. He waves at it

vaguely. Oh, great, predators. His

heart sinks. People talk of

eagles with a wingspan of

3 meters in the northern

regions. He begins to

imagine his own heroic

death. But

now the air is darkening

around him and strange

vectors dive whizz swoop

-- he gasps suddenly

realizing what it is. Not

predator. Ice bats! They

are blue-black. They are

absolutely silent. They

are the size of toasters.

And they are drafting him

down the ice fault with

eerie gentle purpose. A

spearhead in front and a

convoy each side. His

shoulders begin to relax.

Is there an etiquette for

this he should worry

about? Theoretically he

can gain 35% efficiency

by riding their wheels a

while. But it should be

some sort of exchange.

On the other hand theirs is

a volunteer intervention

and they do look tireless

despite all going so fast

there’s a smell of burning –

he is thinking it odd this

smell of burning when the

whole mass of them veers

around an ice bend and

arrives in a vast garage.

Ice bats go nimbly

and can stop on a dime.

Here’s how you stop. Flap

both wings downward

creating a vortex above

the leading edge of each

wing this allows you to

hover. Then flap once

upward to release suction

as you glide from the

flight path in an attitude of

careless royalty and

subside onto some ledge

or throne with neatly

folded fingerbones. G’s

descent is less fine. He

slams into the

blue-blackness ahead of

him not expecting it

to stop. Or instantly

disperse. Each bat goes

whizzing its way into an

aperture in the back wall.

“Batcatraz” says a sign

nailed up there. G drops

to the ice floor stunned.

Clever of you to come in

the back way says a voice.

G looks up.

We shall leave him there looking up.

(laughter)

Things happen. Time passes. We arrive at a chapter called Time Passes.

Time passes time

does not pass. Time all

but passes. Time usually

passes. Time passing and

gazing. Time has no gaze.

Time as perseverance.

Time as hunger. Time in

a natural way. Time when

you were six the day a

mountain. Mountain time.

Time I don’t remember.

Time for a dog in an alley

caught in the beam of your

flashlight. Time not a

video. Time as paper

folded to look like a

mountain. Time smeared

under the eyes of the

miners as they rattle down

into the mine. Time if you

are bankrupt. Time if you

are Prometheus. Time if

you are all the little tubes

on the roots of a gorse

plant sucking greenish

black moistures up into

new scribbled continents.

Time it takes for the postal

clerk to apply her lipstick

at the back of the post

office before the

supervisor returns. Time

it takes for a cow to tip

over. Time in jail. Time

as overcoats in a closet.

Time for a herd of turkeys

skidding and surprised on

ice. All the time that has

soaked into the walls here.

Time between the little

clicks. Time compared to

the wild fantastic silence

of the stars. Time for

the man at the bus stop

standing on one leg to tie

his shoe. Time taking

Night by the hand and

trotting off down the road.

Time passes oh boy. Time

got the jump on me, yes it

did.

And now he has returned home because his mother’s in the hospital.

He brings lilacs

from the bush by the

corner of her house to

which she will probably

not return this time. Or

ever, and he leans his face

into them. The smell

plunges up. A vertical

smell. Wet

purple

unvanquished. Her door is

shut. The ceiling tracks

flicker. No radios no

barbeques don’t honk a

sign he saw on the way to

the hospital his mind

running like a dog off

its chain. Certain things

not decided have been

decided. He arrived on

the day after her surgery.

Has seen this corridor at

all hours. Notices again a

hesitancy in the light as if

it were trying not to shock

you with how scant it is.

He can hear the oxygen

machine through the door.

It shunts on. Runs a while.

Shunts off. He enters.

When he is there they

lift the stones together.

The stones are her lungs.

Some days go by. And now he’s in her hospital room. Their last interview.

Not a casual

solitude. He and she.

Oxygen machine is

wheeled in and hooked

up. Her eyelids flutter but

do not open. He sits. The

room is hot. There is a

smell. Does Proust have a

verb for this. This

struggle she faces now her

onetime terrible date with

Night. First date last date

soul mate. Old song lyrics

scamper in him. He moves

the chair back to the

window. She’s counting

my soul mate gasps of

make my heart rate beat at a

fast rate. Oxygen. He

dozes. Waking to her avid

gaze. Wide open. She

holds in one hand the

makeup mirror in the

other a pair of tweezers.

Here she whispers. Lifts

tweezers. Maybe you can

do it. Taps the end of her

chin. He hesitates shrugs

pulls up his chair takes the

makeup mirror and peers

close. A beard of very

tiny white translucent

hairs all over her chin. He

moves the oxygen tube

aside and gingerly plucks

a few. Plucks a few more.

There are hundreds

thousands. He hates

waiting for her to wince.

She doesn’t wince. It’s

all right Ma you can hardly

see them he says. Her

eyes fall. Okay never

mind. Sadly she takes

the tweezers back. I look

awful don’t I. No you look

like my ma. Now she

winces. In later years this

is the one memory he

wishes would go away and

not come back. And the

reason he cannot bear her

dying is not the loss of her

which is the future but

that the dying puts the two of

them now into this

nakedness together that is

unforgivable. They do not

forgive it. He turns away.

This roaring air in his

arms. She is released.

Some days pass.

Oxen stand quiet

under trees. Io’s eyes are

closed. It is a

hard-blowing red evening.

The priest speaks about

the woman’s good life her

exemplary son her soul’s

situation in the palaces of

God. A short-notice choirs

attempts “Ave Maria”. The

coffin is wheeled out the

back door of the church

and onto a waiting van

someone closes the doors

of the van G watches it

drive off. And the

freedom stuns him. Here

it is the promised clearing

where great stags are

running at liberty. Say a

man has been carrying a

mother on the front of his

life all these years now

she is ripped off now his

life is light as air -- should he believe it?

One more day.

Shuffling recipes

coupons horoscopes

in a kitchen drawer he turns

up an old black-and-white

photograph of her posed in

dashing swim costume on

some long-ago back porch.

One leg forward like a

Greek kouros a cigarette

in the other hand she

glows as a drop of water

glows in sun. She looks

sexually astute in a way

that terrifies him he puts

this aside and all at once

the grainy photograph the

early marvel of her life

flung up at him a thing

hardly believable! knocks

him to his knees. He grips

his arms and weeps. Pain

catches the whole insides

of him and wrings it.

Oddly now remembering

his grandmother’s wringer

washer silvergreen and

upright on a platform of

wet boards in her back

kitchen beside the

washing tubs. How

carefully he’d been taught

to feed a piece of dripping

cloth between the two big

lips of the rollers while

she cranked the handle

and the cloth grabbed

forward to emerge on

the other side as a weird

compressed pane of itself.

He hadn’t known his

grandmother long or well.

She smelled of Noxzema.

Didn’t like doctors.

Believed in herbs and the

Bible. When the apostles

walked down the street

their shadows

would heal people she said. His

mother once told him a

story about her dying.

They never liked each

other hadn’t visited for

years but someone

arranged a phone call. So

there they were mother

and daughter on the

phone separate cities

separate nights both

suffering from asthma and

so moved they couldn’t

speak. I heard her

breathing, I knew what it

was his mother said. He

looks up now. He’d almost

forgot about the rain.

Unloading on the roof and

squandering down the

gutters. Rain continuous

since the funeral a

wrecking rattling

bewildering leafy

knuckling mob of rain. A

rain with no instructions.

Listening to rain

he thinks how strange

all its surfaces sound like

they’re sliding up. How

strange his mother is lying

out there in her little

soaked Chanel suit. The

weeping has been arriving

about every seven

minutes. In the days to

come it will grow less.

Mothers in summer.

Mothers in winter.

Mothers in autumn.

Mothers in spring.

Mothers at altitude.

Mothers in solitude.

Mothers as platitude.

Mothers in spring.

Mothers banking their shots.

Mothers grackling their throats.

Mothers dumped from their boats.

In spring.

Mothers as ice.

Or when they are nice.

No one more nice

In spring.

Mothers ashamed and Ablaze and clear.

At the end.

As they are.

As they almost all are, and then.

Mothers don’t come around Again.

In spring.

Thank you.

(applause)