Father’s Old Blue Cardigan

Anne Carson

copyright ©2000 by Anne Carson

Now it hangs on the back of the kitchen chair
where I always sit, as it did
on the back of the kitchen chair where he always sat.

I put it on whenever I come in,
as he did, stamping
the snow from his boots.

I put it on and sit in the dark.
He would not have done this.
Coldness comes paring down from the moonbone in the sky.

His laws were a secret.
But I remember the moment at which I knew
he was going mad inside his laws.

He was standing at the turn of the driveway when I arrived.
He had on the blue cardigan with the buttons done up all the way to the top.
Not only because it was a hot July afternoon

but the look on his face —
as a small child who has been dressed by some aunt early in the morning
for a long trip

on cold trains and windy platforms
will sit very straight at the edge of his seat
while the shadows like long fingers

over the haystacks that sweep past
keep shocking him
because he is riding backwards.

Notes on the Poem

In Anne Carson's "Father's Old Blue Cardigan", the narrator's observations of her father's mental decline are heartwrenching in their plainly stated simplicity. Further, the poignance of the child's recognition of this stage in the father's life is reinforced with strong sensory impressions and some striking reversals. The piercing physical sensation evoked by this sharp line ... "Coldness comes paring down from the moonbone in the sky" is further compounded by the slight confusion you might feel on first reading "moonbone", which you might mistake for the more expected "moonbeam". In just a few well chosen words, Carson has conveyed both pain and disorientation. Who feels the pain - the father or the child? And who feels the disorientation - both? The transition from that iciness to "a hot July afternoon" is swift and almost queasy making, as ... "He was standing at the turn of the driveway when I arrived" suggests the narrator was possibly startled (did she have to hit the brakes?) as well as dismayed when she discovered her father alarmingly overdressed on a hot day. The most devastating reversal occurs when the child sees the child - scared, bewildered - in the father's face. The most abrupt is a reversal that is described and portrayed physically, that of the sensory conundrum of riding backwards towards one's destination on a train. How sadly apt that reversal is on levels that the father can no longer comprehend or appreciate.

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