Friday, July 20, 2007

Carson and Harms

Quick sampler from my two poets of the week are Anne Carson (whose book Glass, Irony and God I write about on Rave Out) and James Harms, whose poems I enjoy because they remind me of Raymond Carver's work, and because at their best they blur the line between poetry and fiction in ways I find deeply satisfying.

Book of Isaiah (Part III)

Isaiah walked for three years in the valley of vision.

In his jacket of glass he crossed deserts and black winter mornings.

The icy sun lowered its eyelids against the glare of him.

God stayed back.

Now Isaiah had a hole in the place where his howl had broken off.

All the while Isaiah walked, Isaiah's heart was pouring out the hole.

One day Isaiah stopped.

Isaiah put his hand on the amputated place.

Isaiah's heart is small but in a way sacred, said Isaiah, I will save it.

Isaiah plugged the hole with millet and dung.

God watched Isaiah's saving action.

God was shaking like an olive tree.

Now or never, whispered God.

God reached down and drew a line on the floor of the desert in front of Isaiah's feet.

Silence began.

Silence roared down the canals of Isaiah's ears into his brain.

Isaiah was listening to the silence.

Deep under it was another sound Isaiah could hear miles down.

A sort of ringing.

Wake up Isaiah! said God from behind Isaiah's back.

Isaiah jumped and spun around.

Wake up and praise God! said God smiling palely.

Isaiah spat.

God thought fast.

The nation is burning! God cried pointing across the desert.

Isaiah looked.

All the windows of the world stood open and blowing.

In each window Isaiah saw a motion like flames.

Behind the flames he saw a steel fence lock down.

Caught between the flames and the fence was a deer.

Isaiah saw the deer of the nation burning along its back.

In its amazement the deer turned and turned and turned

until its own shadow lay tangled around its feet like melted wings.

Isaiah reached out both his hands, they flared in the dawn.

Poor flesh! said Isaiah.

Your nation needs you Isaiah, said God.

Flesh breaks, Isaiah answered. Everyone's will break. There is nothing we can do.

I tell you Isaiah you can save the nation.

The wind was rising, God was shouting.

You can strip it down, start over at the wires, use lions! use thunder! use what you see -

Isaiah was watching sweat and tears run down God's face.

Okay, said Isaiah, so I save the nation. What do you do?

God exhaled roughly.

I save the fire, said God.

Thus their contract continued.

- Anne Carson, from Glass, Irony and God


He is waiting. The rain has stopped.
The hood of his coat hangs behind his neck
in the shape of his head, like a sack
emptied of all but one potato.
She turns now and then to look at him,

her left hand in a fist at her ear,
the right a row of white knuckles
squeezing the phone receiver.
She is whispering with the force
of a child trying to extinguish candles

on a cake, as if he who waits
may know how she feels but not the words,
not the story exactly; she is having
a private conversation. But the booth
has no door, and he is waiting.

He leans against a parked car,
remembers the recent rain, pulls away
and feels the back of his trousers,
which angers him. She turns in time
to see him frown, his hand

dropping from the seat of his pants.
It begins to drizzle again and he pulls up
his hood. She can no longer see his face
when she turns once more to roll
her eyes; the receiver is making a noise,

a click that breaks the voice
she would rather not be listening to
into pieces, until a new voice
is asking for twenty-five cents.
She is holding her purse

between her ankles an inch or so
above the wet floor, and when she
bends to reach it the short
metal cord pulls the phone from
her cheek, so it swings loose

and slams against the glass wall.
Now she is struggling for her wallet,
is yelling towards the receiver, "Hold on!"
Some change spills out.
She sees his tennis shoes at the booth's

threshold, asphalt beyond, the patterned
metal floor, the thick Xs. His face
is still shadowed, it is still raining.
But in front of her own, just a few
inches from her nose - she can smell

the oil on his fingers, realizes
he is waiting to call for help,
a tow truck or some nearby friend
who understands engines - in a cupped hand
that barely pokes free of the frayed

and soiled sleeve of his jacket
is a quarter. "Here," he says.
And she takes it. She plucks it
from his palm like a thorn, trying not
to touch his skin. But of course

she does. And with the coin in her finers
she watches his hand fold up, an anemone
in a tide pool. It is a fist
he puts in his pocket as he moves away,
as he turns to lean against the car, to wait.

- James Harms, from Quarters

1 comment:

mungojerrie said...

I loved both. I can't recall having read anything similar to the Isaiah poem. Thank you for posting them .