6.06.2011

Wildly Constant by Anne Carson

Sky before dawn is blackish green.
Perhaps a sign.
I should learn more about signs.

Turning a corner to the harbour
the wind hits me
a punch in the face.

I always walk in the morning,
I don’t know why anymore.
Life is short.

My shadow goes before me.
With its hood up
it looks like a foghorn.

Ice on the road.
Ice on the sidewalk.
Nowhere to step.

It’s better to step
where the little black stones are.
Not so slippery.

I guess the little black stones
could be lava.
Or do I exoticise.

A man hurries past
with a small dog.
No one says Hello.

A pink schoolgirl passes.
Looks in my face.
No one says Hello.

Who would expect
to see a walking foghorn
out so early.

Wind pushes more.
I push back.
Almost home.

Why did I come here.
New wind every day.
Life is for pushing back.

Now it is dawn.
A gold eyelid opens
over the harbour.

People who live here
learn not to complain
about the wind.

I go inside and make tea.
Eat bran flakes.
Read three pages of Proust.

Proust is complaining
(it is 1914)
about the verb savoir as used by journalists.

He says they use it
not as a sign of the future
but as a sign of their desires –

sign of what they want the future to be.
What’s wrong with that? I think.
I should learn more about signs.

The first thing I saw
the first morning I went out for a walk in Stykkishólmur
was a crow

as big as a chair.
What’s that chair doing on top of that house? I thought
then it flapped away.

A crow that big is called a raven.
Corvus corax in Linnaeus’s binomial system.
Each one makes a sound

like a whole townful of ravens
in the country I come from.
Three adjectives that recur

in the literature on ravens are
omnivorous.
Pernicious.

Monogamous.
I’m interested in monogamous.
I got married last May

and had my honeymoon in Stykkishólmur.
This year I returned to Stykkishólmur
to live with my husband

for three months in one small room.
This extreme monogamy
proved almost too much for us.

Rather than murder each other
we rented a second place
(Greta’s house)

near the pool.
Now we are happily
duogamous.

There are ravens on the roof
of both places.
Perhaps they are the same ravens.

I can’t tell.
If Roni Horn were here
she’d say ravens

are like water,
they are wildly constant.
They are a sign of Iceland.

I should learn more about signs.
I came to Stykkishólmur
to live in a library.

The library contains not books
but glaciers.
The glaciers are upright.

Silent.
As perfectly ordered as books would be.
But they are melted.

What would it be like
to live in a library
of melted books.

With sentences streaming over the floor
and all the punctuation
settled to the bottom as a residue.

It would be confusing.
Unforgivable.
A great adventure.

Roni Horn once told me
that one of the Antarctic explorers said
To be having an adventure

is a sign of incompetence.
When I am feeling
at my most incompetent

as I do in Stykkishólmur
many a dark morning
walking into the wind,

I try to conjure in mind
something that is the opposite of incompetence.
For example the egg.

This perfect form.
Perfect content.
Perfect food.

In your dreams
said a more recent explorer (Anna Freud)
you can have your eggs cooked as perfectly as you want

but you cannot eat them.
Sometimes at night
when I can’t sleep

because of the wind
I go and stand
in the library of glaciers.

I stand in another world.
Not the past not the future.
Not paradise not reality not

a dream.
An other competence,
Wild and constant.

Who knows why it exists. I
stand amid glaciers.
Listen to the wind outside

falling towards me from the outer edges of night and space.
I have no theory
of why we are here

or what any of us is a sign of.
But a room of melted glaciers
rocking in the nightwind of Stykkishólmur

is a good place to ponder it.
Each glacier is lit from underneath
as memory is.

Proust says memory is of two kinds.
There is the daily struggle to recall
where we put our reading glasses

and there is a deeper gust of longing
that comes up from the bottom
of the heart

involuntarily.
At sudden times.
For surprise reasons.

Here is an excerpt from a letter Proust wrote
in 1913:
We think we no longer love our dead

but that is because we do not remember them:
suddenly
we catch sight of an old glove

and burst into tears.
Before leaving the library
I turn off the lights.

The glaciers go dark.
Then I return to Greta’s house.
Wake up my husband.

Ask him to make us some eggs.


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Carson, Anne. "Wildly Constant." London Review of Books 31.8 (2009): 27. 6 June 2011 .

2 comments:

  1. I love this. So wistful and contemplative. So much atmosphere. Like taking a walk with a friend.

    ReplyDelete