Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 6, 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.


                              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.

Learn more about Anne Carson’s Red Doc> and browse other titles by Anne Carson.

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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