Towards poetic address: Anne Carson slag

Aristotle talks about probability and necessity, but what good is a marvel, what good is a story that does not contain poison dragons

Anne Carson (page 24)



I can’t get to sleep. Anne Carson is in my head. I think I’m talking to her in understandable sentences. One at a time. But I know it’s all gibberish. You are so beautiful the woman says in passing as I enter the city. Jet-lagged legs bottom out, sag further to the floor. I want to be beautiful. I break down. Want to cry.


I don’t trust myself on my own. I’m meeting Anne Carson. Is she queer, too? Can we be sisters? She’ll be wearing red roses appliqued onto her black shirt. There will be a bruise under her thumbnail. You can never be silent enough I hear my mother say, not that my mother would say it like this. She need only raise her forehead to wrinkles to get her point across.


I’ve grown so tall we look down on birds flying together around our knees. Or something. Does he say that in so many words? My father looks down at me / and I feel I am circling his feet. Does this make me a bird / or simply small?


I write notes to myself before I can sleep. I can’t sleep. I write in the downtown Hyatt Regency notepad beside the bed. 26 bedside notes. DIALING INSTRUCTION INSIDE. Inside what? Listen to the rattle of hot water in the pipes.


Margaret Christakos says: Thinking is related to looking (page 13). Margaret Christakos is the one who writes an introduction to Anne Carson’s book Short Talks. Anne Carson is the one who writes about prepositions. And slag. I wonder to whom the smelling and the hearing is related. These pages will run out very soon. Will it be time to sleep then? Will I recognise you in the morning? Recognise we’ve not met before?


I find myself wanting to silence any doubt. I want to know what it feels like. Hold his hand again. (I want to hold the poet’s hand, too, but that seems too odd.) (Too = Old English stressed form of to.)


His take on autism, [for instance]. Give a mother love and she will love back / love forwards.

… does he say something else here along these lines?

Sometimes I wonder at the words coming out of his mouth. I read online in a comments thread (it’s gone now): ‘Up until 30 years ago, many paediatricians et al believed the cold mother figure to be the reason behind autism. Prof John Rendle-Short refuted his own theory of “refrigerator mum” as being the ultimate cause for childhood autism.’


What’s wrong with you, he asks, as I lie on the make-do couch in the lounge? His fingers bounce off my skin on my stomach on occasions like this (not that there are many) (occasions, that is). He knocks his fingers on one hand against the cupped hand on the other and makes popping sounds with his digits. Like a kind of music; it tells me he’s close. I want him to ask me the question again. His mouth talking. His fingers bouncing off my tummy forever. Like. This. Attention. He. Gives. Me.


I know this is going to turn out bad. I’m giving a talk in the morning. I know I must sleep. What would Anne Carson do (AC: alternative current: a favourite science experiment at school: liking the patterns of currents on material: looking like soft brown rain)? Is this how to grow poetry? Succulents flowering in the dark?


Some fathers love being proud of their daughters. Some fathers love being ashamed of their daughters. I read in Dad’s bible: Eve eats the fruit. I read poetry all night just like the Mayor of Minneapolis says she does.


I forget I need to shit in the morning. Shit. We never talk about shit in my family. We don’t talk poetry either.


I want to tell you who I really am. Before it’s too late.


Does Sheffield have a slagheap in its midst like the place Anne Carson grows up in? Is that why my father leaves that city, takes his family with him? I am the youngest then.


I have one of our Sheffield knives in my possession; I am born with these knives in my mouth. Salvage. Try to use it every day. Stainless steel, silver blade. A little flag: Walker and Hall. Black handle. Small crazings. I wish I kept the others. Steel. Slag. I don’t know where the rest of the cutlery is. We divide it all up when my father dies. That’s when I get my father’s library, too. It sits on the top shelves of the remodeled bookcase in our new library: these walls swallow books.


Anne Carson. She knows what a slag heap is. She comes from a mining town. Slag like poetic address (page 20). Your father is quite a funny man – is that what they say? Quite droll. This is before he is my father.


I wonder what my father is like before he is my father. I see Anne Carson the same year as the reprint of her book. I hug her too. Surprising how little she is in stature (how big am I). Short like these talks.


It’s the chocolate fondant you shout me that’s keeping me awake. Its gooey centre. Shut up. Do be quite. I hear him insist sotto voce trying to keep his voice under control. His authority never yells. It squeezes your lungs more like it. Pinches out breath. You find yourself choking at the end of his sentence. He has a way with words like that. I fucking hate it.


But it doesn’t scare me anymore. I just want to get to the bottom of it (scrub that last sentence out). Want to screen the truth: feet apart. Arms in the air, like the comedian Geraldine Hickey does, like Jesus. Coming to America, US style. Look up at the camera.


Will you stop when these pages are finished? Is that your plan? Will you ever run out of words? There are so many different complexions depending on point of view. Anne Carson is known for writing theatrically on shame and resistance.


Does father write notes in small notebooks into the night? Does he sleep in his chair in his study? Is that when he feels the breath of God pass over his face? Does Angel beg him to come back to bed? Or does she like those nights on her own when he can’t sleep, when she has the double bed all to herself? When she can lie crossways like a starfish? When she prepositions the bed.


Stop asking questions.


Does Dad want to ask God big questions just like I want to ask Anne Carson? They both share a love of poetry – Dad and Anne (I don’t know about God). Depending on how you look at it, depending on how you define poetry. I look for patterns to save me. Sums and/or subtractions, anything to help me swim away from them.


My father wears glasses, too. Not groovy mustard glasses like Anne Carson. His are pretty ordinary gold-rimmed glasses he buys at a $2 shop. This is best it has to be said; he has a habit of losing them – down the backs of chairs, in the toilet, in the washing when he forgets to take them out of his top pocket. Behind appliqued flowers on the sofa.


I can’t sleep. How do you play slag again, you know that two-handed card game called Slag?


Anne Carson does 45 short talks in Short Talks (why this number, I wonder) whereas here I am running out of night. It’s morning too soon. I read in the foreword: shit’s gonna happen if you think too much (page 11). A warning. It’s in italics in my small book so I put it in italics here for emphasis. Did you know italics come from Italy?


Oh, here’s another. The number of bones in a foot. Put a 0 in it and it’s the number of bones in a body in this city – 206. Understanding is complicated. Like truth it’s hard to pin down. Angel, can we have a short talk? (My parents want to argue more like it.) It’s my TEXT birthday. They shut the bedroom door behind them. A silent film. With slag on the breath: cumquats, meringues, yoghurt, cheese.


Work cited
Anne Carson, Short Talks, Ontario: Brick Books Classics 2015, first published 1992

Image: ‘History and elegy are akin’, Ben Ledbetter


Francesca Rendle-Short

Francesca Rendle-Short is a novelist, memoirist and essayist. Her latest book is The Near and The Far Vol 2 (Scribe, co-edited with David Carlin). She is the Associate Dean Writing and Publishing at RMIT University.

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