Anne M Carson – On becoming Anna Magdalena Bach

Anne M Carson profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.

Anne M Carson’s poetry has been published internationally, and widely in Australia. Recent publications include Massaging Himmler: A Poetic Biography of Dr Felix Kersten (Hybrid, 2019), and Two Green Parrots (Ginnindera Press, 2019). She has initiated a number of poetry-led social justice projects. She is currently a PhD candidate at RMIT where her project includes poetic biographies of two creative women – Anna Magdalena Bach, a ‘flawless’ soprano (according to her husband, Johann Sebastian Bach) and George Sand, prolific French novelist.

On becoming Anna Magdalena Bach

Twenty years a Wilcken,
under father’s roof,

in a family of Wilckens
then overnight

I become a Bach
under the roof of another

in a family of Bachs.
At the market they say

Guten tag Frau Bach
and I turn to see who

they address. Me – a frau?
Seasons pass before I know

myself in this other guise:
Frau Cantor Bach.

Anna Magdalena
talks about erster und zweiter Schlaf

Our nightly ritual for the erster Schlaf
is to go to our bed not long after dusk.

Exhausted we immediately fall asleep
then wake around midnight, to pray, talk

about the coming day and play the games
spouses do. In the early days, keen to snatch

moments of tenderness from the everyday
maelstrom, we would talk, wanting to know

whom this person was whom I had wed. Johann
would hum a few bars, little tunes which

came into his head more easily than words.
Then I had to sing the next few bars sensing

where the music could go – not so easy for
me at first, but with practice I improved.

Lying in his arm-crook feeling the hum-vibration
deep in his chest; under the kind auspices

of the Almighty, I knew as perfect contentment
as possible in this human life. Back and forth

our hums went, singing the felicity of our
connection. Sometimes we made harmonies

and counter-points that soared in a night-time
language of our own devising. Around 2am,

we fell silent once more, at one with each
other, the created world, and our Lord. Then,

head-long we tumbled into zweiter Schlaf.

The Gift of Thee

Other times I wake
after our erster Schlaff

my reach for him is
full of ardour and affection.

Then the moonlit room
fills with our want of each

other and our prayers
become bodily. My soul

praises the Lord for the gift
of thee, I whisper in his

ear, voice choked with
love and longing.

* In the 1700s in Europe, sleep was divided into two phases, first and second sleep.

© Anne M Carson