Tuesday, April 26, 2011

anne carson: book of isaiah (part II)


There is a kind of pressure in humans to take whatever is most beloved by them
and smash it.

Religion calls the pressure piety and the smashed thing a sacrifice to God.

Prophets question these names.   

What is an idol?

An idol is a useless sacrifice, said Isaiah.

But how do you know which ones are useless? asked the nation in its genius.

Isaiah pondered the various ways he could answer this.

Immense chunks of natural reality fell out of a blue sky
       and showers of light upon his mind.

Isaiah chose the way of metaphor.

Our life is a camera obscura, said Isaiah, do you know what that is?   

Never heard of it, said the nation.   

Imagine yourself in a darkened room, Isaiah instructed.

Okay, said the nation.

The doors are closed, there is a pinhole in the back wall.

A pinhole, the nation repeated.

Light shoots through the pinhole and strikes the opposite wall.   

The nation was watching Isaiah, bored and fascinated at once.

You can hold up anything you like in front of that pinhole, said Isaiah,

and worship it on the opposite wall.

Why worship an image? asked the nation.   

Exactly, said Isaiah.

The nation chewed on that for a moment.   

Then its genius spoke up.

So what about Isaiah’s pinhole?

Ah, said Isaiah.

A memory fell through him as clear heat falls on herbs.

Isaiah remembered the old days, conversing with God under the Branch

and like an old butler waking in an abandoned house the day the revolution began,

Isaiah bent his head.

A burden was upon Isaiah.

Isaiah opened his mouth.

A sigh came from Isaiah’s mouth, the sigh grew into a howl.

The howl ran along the brooks to the mouth of the brooks   

and tore the nets of the fishers who cast angle into the brooks   

and confounded the workers in fine flax who weave networks   

and broke their purpose.

The howl rolled like a rolling thing past slain men and harvests and spoils

and stopped in a ditch between two walls.

Then Isaiah unclamped his mouth from the howl.

Isaiah let his mouth go from the teat.

Isaiah turned, Isaiah walked away.

Isaiah walked for three years naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered
to the shame of the nation.

All night you could see the Branch roaming against the sky like a soul.

Carson, Anne. "Book of Isaiah" Glass, Irony and God. New York: New Directions Books, 1995.