Nox: Elegies

I’ve been tossing around like an insomniac deciding what to read next. I’ve been off fiction for grown-ups for a while, for various personal reasons. I had cause to push Autobiography of Red into someone’s hands this weekend, which gave me cause to pull this artifact out and consider it again. I know Nox by Anne Carson is  going to kill me; I know that. But it is winter, and the snow falls glittery and insulating over the back porch, and it may be the best kind of sarcophagus in which to consider Carson and her grief. I’ll have to read it at night, so the kids don’t wreck the accordion pages. There’s something funny about that – the way this object, this book, is bait for children – when I know the heart-break I will find in the less physical parts of its being. We shall see. I shall see.

I wrote a whole review, and it vanished with an ill-timed key-stoke. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Now I will have to recreate it from memory, like a life in retrospect.


In the mayhem of the holidays, I dug through a box of old photographs, and found myself there, younger. It was a shock. The best photo I have from high school, with all of the players smiling out from under their bangs, has a weird stain in the middle that leaves rings on our faces. I can’t find the negative. Seeing the photo made me have the memory of s smell, something like carpet, and tobacco lingering on fingers after you smoke, and the carbon dioxide smell of soda as it fizzes.


This poem has struck me dumb. Our lives hinge in the double meaning of that word.


I don’t like collage, or fragments, as a rule. Many years ago, some artistic jerk-off stacked up a bunch of water mines dredged out of the Atlantic as an art instillation at the local modern art museum. Above it, the words:

bits and pieces
put together to present
a semblance of a whole

Hipsters on the corner of 27th and Hennepin – Hennepin Ave cuts across the grid pattern of the streets, so the apartment sits at the end of a point of land, visible to the clog of rush hour traffic – hung a statement on white sheets on their porch:

bits and pieces
float in flatulence
in my bowl

The hipsters were right: sometimes fragments put together are just shit. But. To quote better poets than I:

A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.

But sometimes fragments are all we have, and metonymy is as good as completeness. A memory of smell invoked by the damaged image of a damaged time.


But still, it moves.


Carson is a translator, which makes her a poet, or possibly the other way around. Causality is a tricky business. She gropes in a dark room for a light switch. Sometimes she finds it. Sometimes she doesn’t, and the thing that makes her a poet is that she can give the darkness shape.


I choke up when I talk about this poem. I don’t know why, because it is not confessional or manipulative. It is not meant to play me like an instrument. It plays itself, and the tears are in the silences between the notes.


I also don’t know why I’m calling this a poem. It’s too tactile for that. The accordion pages bear the marks of the staples, which have been recorded like music, a record. Remember when you could pronounce that two ways and have it mean something? Record the verb, and record the noun. On one page, there is the sketch of a shadow, and when you turn the page, you realize it is the shadow of the photographer, their mother, laid out in the grass. You realize, I said, distancing. I realize, I guess is closer to the truth of it.


This is almost voyeurism, but for the silence, the muteness. This is no confessional. There is no pat Freudian conclusion to the fragments, to the eulogy, just a bit here and there with odd tears between them. If I were speaking these words, you would know whether I meant tears, like from your eyes, or tears, like something rended. I’m not speaking them though, and the translation hangs. I didn’t know until I typed these words that there was any ambiguity.


I read this on the couch, wrapped in blankets because I’m cheap and the house is cold. My daughter came and wriggled next to me and watched the pages move, connected to one another the way they are, and also watched whatever dumb movie I put on to distract her. She was warm, and smelled like childhood.

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