Vol. 41 No. 20 · 24 October 2019

Final Choral Ode

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

Anne Carson

598 words

Hear that? Living skulls! What are we doing here? What war at Troy? Does anyone care? Gods of love and hate! Aren’t they the same god? All of us, all our lives, searching for the one perfect enemy – you, me, Helen, Paris, Menelaos, all those crazy Greeks! all those hapless Trojans! my dear beloved Jack! Jack and I fought all the time. I remember almost nothing but the fights – every fight a war to end all wars, you know how it goes, a righteous war, a final war, the worst fight you’ve ever had, you can’t do this again, this time you’ll get things straight one way or the other or it’s over, he’ll see what you mean, see you’re right, fights aren’t about anything except being right, are they? once and for all. You feel old. Wrong. Clumsy. You sit in two chairs on the porch. Or the kitchen. Or the front hall. Hell arrives. It’s as if the war was already there, waiting, the two of you poured into it like wet concrete. The chairs you sit in are the wrong chairs, they’re the chairs you never sit in because they’re so uncomfortable, you keep thinking you should move but you don’t, your neck hurts, you hate your neck, evening closes in. Birds move about the yard. Hell yawns. War pours out of both of you, steaming and stinking. You rush backward from it and become children, every sentence slamming you back into the child you still are, every sentence not what you meant to say at all but the meaning keeps contracting, or flaring, or flaring and contracting, as sparks drop on gasoline, Fuckshit this! Fuckshit that! no reason to live. You’re getting vertigo. He’s being despicable. Your mother was like this. Stop whimpering. No use asking. Don’t leave the room. I have to leave the room. Breathless, blaming, I’m not blaming! How is this not blaming! Hours pass or do they. You say the same things or are they different things? Hell smells stale. Fights aren’t about anything, fights are about themselves. You’re stiff. You hate these chairs. Nothing is resolved. It is too dark to see. You both go to bed and doze slightly, touching slightly. In the night a nightmare. Some giant bird, or insect, some flapping thing, trying to settle on the back of your neck, you can’t see what it is or get it off. Pure fear. Scream unearthly. He jerks you awake. Oh sweetie, he says. He is using his inside voice, his most inside voice. The distance between that voice and the fight voice measures your whole world. How can a voice change so. You are saved. He has saved you. He sees you saved. An easement occurs, as night dew on leaves. And yet (you think suddenly) you yourself do not possess this sort of inside voice – no wonder he’s lonely. You cannot offer this refuge, cannot save him, not ever, and, although physiological in origin, or genetic, or who knows, you understand the lack is felt by him as a turning away. No one can heal this. You both decide without words to just – skip it. You grip one another. In the night, in the silence, the grip slowly loosens and silence washes you out somewhere onto a shore of sleep.

Morning arrives. Troy is still there. You hear from below the clatter of everyone putting on their armour. You go to the window.

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