Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Anne Carson's " Life of Spinoza"

Yi-Ping Ong kindly sent me this from "The Free Library," the rumored Anne Carson Poem. Surprising and stunning.

Life of Spinoza.

Day 1

How we have waited! we frontline fighters get more than our share of food and clothing.

Time to repay.

Water looks cloudy.

Rumours sweep our vessel.

Will we steam boldly south out of the Channel?

Day 2


Gentle breeze gladdens our 73,000 silverblack tons.


They are counting on me! We line up on deck.

To think this giant ship will never return.

Fingers gripping compass go white.

Day 3

Waiting under blackout 3,000 men's breathing grows still.

Drift with night currents.

Single B-29 passes overhead.

Blind shot one middlesized bomb no damage.

Patience patience.

Night rations are delicious.

Day 4

Sobbing from hammock of Communications Officer Yakatani who just came off duty translating American codes.

How are you? We are fine. Please put your best effort into your duties.

Letter from mother tore him open.

Let's both pray for peace.

She lives in California her other 2 sons serve in US. Army.

Day 5

In my quarters I set up record of radar training.

Then sit with closed eyes.

Spring warmth not far off.

Climb into hammock.

Before sailing I searched ship's library.

Life of Spinoza.

No prospect of finishing it before attack.

Style is like honey.

After joining navy every night same nightmare.

 Prowling bookstores I scan with bloodshot eyes

spines of books I will never read.

Day 6

Afternoon report that American task force is withdrawing.

Has our hour finally come?

In our breasts flame burns.

A break between drills someone calls out Cherry blossoms'.

Third station has binoculars turned toward coastline.

Must be early flowering variety.

Pushing to be next in line we grasp binoculars.

Day 7


As we raise glasses of ceremonial farewell

Ensign Omai loses grip glass falls to deck shattering.

Most unlucky.

Our scornful glances pour in on him.

Day 7

Mid morning 3 B-29s pass directly overhead.

Must have verified that refueling is over.


Difficult to write letter to be read after one's death.

Please dispose of all my things stay well and survive.

I hurry to mailbox.

Thus are severed all bonds.

Meanwhile Ensign Omai presses pen into man's hand.

Don't you have a mother even a single word will do.

In wardroom we gather to receive ceremonial gifts of Emperor cigarettes chocolate tiny bottles of whiskey.

Stuff them into pockets of uniform.

1600 hours.


Arrow is loosed!

Day 8

Last ornament of Japan's Imperial Navy.

Chrysanthemum on Emperor's lapel.

Tomorrow is day of battle.

Fluorescent dots attached to caps of all night officers on bridge move as points in dream bringing smiles to our lips.

Day 8

1220 hours air search radar picks up 3 blips.


Each ship increases to 25 knots as one they turn 100 degrees exact.

Our ship quiet already becomes quieter.

Radar tracks blips.

I spot them with naked eye more than a hundred planes flow out of gap in clouds.


Legs want to dance I grit teeth but break into grin.

Amidst noise I distinguish sound of skull striking bulkhead.

Amidst gunpowder smell of blood.


Day 8

Torpedo tracks white on water as a needle drawn.

A dozen press toward us silently.

We shift course to run parallel.

Over voice tube captains voice terrible.

We dodge.


Open engines dodge again.


Day 8


Sliding down upright ladder I run towards compartment.

Split clean in two as a bamboo tube.

Instruments scattered in all directions.

Amid debris I notice red barrel of flesh smashed onto control panel.

Size of torso no arms legs head.

To charred flesh are stuck bits of khaki cloth hot to touch.

Four other chunks nearby.

Smell of fat in air.

Beings only a moment ago.

For a moment I am lost in marvelling.

Day 8

When torpedo strikes water pours into flood control sectors.

As pressure builds up bulkheads burst flooding spreads.

American planes swooping like swallows.

Bombs rain down on turrets.

Torpedo hits one two on port side.

Ship is listing my whole body feels uneasy.

If list progesses to five degress it will impede artillery.

Moreover sense of equilibrium is critical to morale.


Order given to let in 3,000 tons of water.


Staff officers on bridge stand speechless.

Heaven is not on our side?

Damage control officer decides no alternative.

Flood engine and boiler rooms--posts of our "black gang."

Confined in a hell of noise and sweat conversing by hand signals only they made our ship go.

In an instant 3,000 tons of water blast them to drops.

Needle on clinometer falls back as if broken.

Day 8

Flushed faces of American pilots straight at bridge guns blazing.

Eyes wide open or twisted shut mouths in ecstasy.

Coming in again and again precisely calmly ideally.

We are utterly naked.

Admiral sits motionless.

I break loose and go to upper radar compartment.

Here sailors are piled together shuddering.

Shrapnel bursts through bulkhead no one moves.

Let's go! I cry.

A few look up.

Such behaviour occurs among men with no specific tasks during battle.

Day 8

Giant body once brimming with power floats like waterlogged woodchip.

Shard of human flesh snagged on arm of rangefinder.

Man-sized where did it fly from?

How much time has elapsed since battle began an instant?

Bubble of delight rises in my breast.

Aftertaste of hard work.

Not even slightly tired.

Chocolate stuffed into pockets already half gone.

Delicious I cannot say how delicious.

Day 8

Stern is aflame.

Step by step we guess what enemy will do.

We think He'll hit rudder and he hits it.


Chief of Staff says Beautifully done--after all actual combat is best training!

Laughter on bridge first time since battle began.


List 35 degrees.

Day 8

Geysers rise port and starboard amidships.

Captain did you see that?

Needle of clinometer leaps.

I brace elbow on deck feeling joy.

Ideal angle for propping oneself.

Gulping deep breaths I eat chocolate.

What is tasting this sweet taste?

Death whispers in me You you on the bridge I pity you.

Around me people exchange empty glances.

Around me quiet.

Needle of clinometer is slipping its way toward tranquility.

Day 8


Admiral stands.

Gazes out over water a moment.

Cease operation.

Chief of Staff crawls forward props himself on compass and salutes.

Admiral returns salute.

Smiles I think.

Departs down ladder to private quarters.

Nor do we hear report of his pistol.

List 80 degrees.

Day 8

Crawling out porthole I look back.

Poor bridge.

Bodies lashed together Navigation Officer and Assistant Navigation Officer shrug away hands urging them to escape.

Eyes wide open they watch water rise.

Meanwhile on top of bridge Captain binds himself to binnacle.

Shouts Bonzai! three times.

Turns to four sailors standing by him.

Slaps each on shoulder and pushes them into water.

As he goes over last sailor presses four biscuits into Captain's hand.

Captain grins. Captain is finishing second biscuit when engulfed.

Day 8

Ship this size sinks all you see is pure white boiling locking in every direction.

Water shoots and breaks a million panes.

Bodies just dots. Dots fly.

Swoop under. Pop back up.

Hang upside down like funhouse gelatin.

Glassblue stripes. White eddies.

As I draw breath to delight in beauty

whirlpool grabs my foot.

Tossed up thrown down beaten torn flung twisted upended I think

O world flitting by how alluring!

Day 8

List virtually 90 degrees.

Ship underwater.

Full magazine of shells for main batteries

topples and slides

knocking fuses on bulkhead--!--

belly up emitting a work of flame visible to Kagoshima.

Armour turrets guns all equipments go flying off.

From deep in whirlpool I glimpse

circling planes caught in fire

just as my body is thrust back and spun--second explosion

hurls it up

straight into redhot roaring rain.

Next world!


Evans, David C., ed. and trans. The Japanese Navy in World War II: In the Words of Former Japanese Naval Officers, 2d ed. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986.

United States Naval Institute Proceedings, 78:2. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1952.

Yoshida, Mitsura. Requiem for Battleship Yamato. Translated by Richard H. Minear. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985.
COPYRIGHT 2009 University of Chicago


  1. Why is it I keep thinking it's Anne Carson, not Ann?

  2. Because you are more accurate than I am.

  3. Oh, and I was just checking to see if you were awake.

  4. I'm alive. Don't know if I'm awake, but glad to know I'm still a smarty-pants.