I AM VERY

by Anne Carson

I AM VERY he says tilting into the room and stops. Happy

to see you man but I’m not
sure you’re real. Tell me
you’re real. 4NO looks at
him upside down then
unfolds from his
headstand. Bad night?
says 4NO. But Sad is
straying about the room
touching all the chairs one
by one. Chairs he says. I
missed you. His voice is
soft. His eyes drift off.
4NO watches him
fragilely. Every molecule
of Sad and Sad’s bad
future is advancing
through 4NO’s retinal
surface. Like perfect
works of art they form a
sparkling flood. They
saturate him and
confiscate the present
moment. He closes his
eyes against this
unbearable excess and
gathers his mind to a
point. It breaks through
the white. He opens his
eyes. At ease soldier he
says to Sad. Nobody’s
here yet. I’m just
stretching. Sad smiles and
then forgets not to. The
smile stays on his face.

Notes on the Poem

As we observed when we examined the section "TIME PASSES TIME" from her book-length poem (or verse-novel), Red Doc>, Anne Carson gathers words and linguistic features in potent combinations that can have unexpected effects on readers. Let's peer at another section and prepare to be surprised again. The simple order in which words of apparent dialogue are spoken in this section leaves us off kilter but intrigued, right from the outset. "I AM VERY he says tilting into the room and stops." Very ... what? We're already hanging on every word, "tilting" (isn't that a charming way to describe someone's entrance?) towards the page in anticipation. When we finally learn that Sad is happy - a whimsical juxtaposition - but that happiness has a rather unusual caveat. From there, Carson paints a sensitive portrait of a troubled and seemingly very unhappy person. There are plenty of sensory cues signalling that unhappiness. Sad's voice is soft, his eyes are drifting, he is "straying about the room" and touching the chairs, perhaps aimlessly, but perhaps with strange purpose. It's vaguely unsettling. But then 4NO establishes connection with the wavering Sad, determinedly "gather[ing] his mind to a / point." Not only is the wistful uncertainty brought to a clear halt, but it culminates in this sunny conclusion: "Sad smiles and then forgets not to. The smile stays on his face." We are very ... happy. But up to that last line, we weren't sure. This is a lovely surprise, delicately orchestrated.

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