APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: Anne Carson’s ‘That Old Cliché’

  • By David M. Kinchen, with information from Knopf 
APRIL IS POETRY MONTH: Anne Carson's 'That Old Cliché'
Geryon, the red monster with wings who fell in love with Herakles in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (1998), has returned as simply “G” in her new book Red Doc>, and Herakles is now known as “Sad,” short for Sad But Great. The action of their many-years-after narrative is set in motion when G, who is out herding musk oxen, sees his old love again: “Love’s long lost shock the boy the man he knows him. Knew.” In the section given below, G has tumbled into an ice fault—”a world at once solid and dissolved but weirdly shadowless.” Trapped between the glacial walls, colder than he has ever been, G recalls the trials of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and assesses his situation.

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THAT OLD CLICHÉ

of polar adventure fatigue
flooding his body in
waves. This wonderful
longing to lie down surely
he’s been walking for
years surely he should
stop and rest a moment
against one of those satiny
planes of ice that allure on
every side. Cucumbers
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. 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.

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Buy the Book

Excerpt from RED DOC>. Copyright © 2013 by Anne Carson. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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