Monday, November 7, 2011

IX. But what word was it

Word that overnight
showed up on all the walls of my life inscribed simpliciter no explanation.
What is the power of the unexplained.
There he was one day (new town) in a hayfield outside my school standing
under a black umbrella
in a raw picking wind.
I never asked
how he got there a distance of maybe 300 miles.
To ask

would break some rule.
Have you ever read The Homeric Hymn to Demeter?
Remember how Hades rides out of the daylight
on his immortal horses swathed in pandemonium.
Takes the girl down to a cold room below
while her mother walks the world and damages every living thing.
Homer tells it
as a story of the crime against the mother.
For a daughter’s crime is to accept Hades’ rules

which she knows she can never explain

and so breezing in she says
to Demeter:
“Mother here is the whole story.
Slyly he placed
in my hands a pomegranate seed sweet as honey.
Then by force and against my will he made me eat.
I tell you this truth though it grieves me.”
Made her eat how? I know a man
who had rules
against showing pain,
against asking why, against wanting to know when I’d see him again.
From my mother
emanated a fragrance, fear.
And from me
(I knew by her face at the table)
smell of sweet seed.
Roses in your room’d he send you those?

What’s the occasion?
No occasion.
What’s going on with the color.
Ten white one red what’s that mean.
Guess they ran out of white.

To abolish seduction is a mother’s goal.
She will replace it with what is real: products.
Demeter’s victory
over Hades
does not consist in her daughter’s arrival from down below,
it’s the world in bloom –
cabbages lures lambs broom sex milk money!
These kill death.

I still have that one red rose dried to powder now.
It did not mean hymen as she thought.

Anne Carson’s Beauty of the Husband is called “a fictional essay in 29 tangos,” and this is only one particular instance of a much longer narrative sequence. What I like the most about this specific poem is the way in which it exploits the mythology of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades for its own purposes (juxtapositions of the classical and the contemporary are common in almost anything written by Carson). In terms of re-presenting the myth, the language here is extremely reductionist—in the original Hades is described as bursting from a cleft in the earth, abducting Persephone, and carrying her to the Underworld, while the entire world is in utter desolation from Demeter’s despair. Here, Carson capitalizes on the same premises but adjusts them to her own characters and their stories Although the overarching theme is ultimately about separation, throughout the tangos it becomes obvious that the speaker was helpless (i.e., “abducted”) against her husband’s irresistible sex, “beauty,” charm, etc. Yet based on the way the myth is interpreted here, even she cannot deny that there is something willful and deliberate about her choice to continually hang on and return to him. To me this poem is so interesting because it both dilates on the themes and rejects the constraints of the mythology.

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