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First Choral Ode from Norma Jeane Baker of Troy (a translation of Euripides’ Helen) Anne Carson
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Vol. 41 No. 5 · 7 March 2019
Poem

First Choral Ode from Norma Jeane Baker of Troy (a translation of Euripides’ Helen)

Anne Carson

[enter Norma Jeane as Mr Truman Capote]

Norma Jeane:

                           Enter chorus.
                           I am my own chorus.
                           I think of my chorus as Mr Truman Capote.
                           He was a good friend, he told me the truth.
                           You’ll never admit it when you’ve made a mess,
                           he said to me once
                           and that was true.
                           I can still hear his funny little girl voice – Truman
                           had a voice like a negligee, always
                           slipping off one bare shoulder,
                           just a bit.
                           And he hated melodrama,
                           though he loved to quote poetry – highbrow stuff –
                           here’s one he says is about me –
                           by Stevie Smith (it’s called ‘Persephone’):

                  I am that Persephone
                  Who played with her darlings in Sicily
                  Against a background of social security.

                  Oh what a glorious time we had.
                  Or had we not? They said it was sad.
                  I was born good, grown bad.

                           And isn’t that how it always starts, this myth that ends with the girl ‘grown bad’?
                           She’s in a meadow gathering flowers
                           twirling her own small sunny hours.
                           When up rides a man on black horses.
                           Up rides a man in a black hat.
                           Up rides a man with a black letter to deliver.
                           Shall I make you my queen?
                           She’s maybe 12 or 13.
                           Rape
                           is the story of Helen,
                           Persephone,
                           Norma Jeane,
                           Troy.
                           War is the context
                           and God is a boy.
                           Oh my darlings,
                           they tell you you’re born with a precious pearl.
                           Truth is,
                           it’s a disaster to be a girl.

                  Up came the black horses and the dark King.
                  And the harsh sunshine was as if it had never been.
                  In the halls of Hades they said I was queen.

[exit Norma Jeane as Mr Truman Capote]

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