Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Well, a pilgrim is like a Nō play. Each one has the same structure, a question mark.

The other day when I was looking through the books of short stories and essay collections—some half-unread, some completely un-read—on my shelves, I found, in a Best American Essays 1988, an essay by Anne Carson entitled, “Kinds of Water.”

It obviously went on my list.

This essay was scheduled for my reading on the 6th of December; I only finished it this morning five days later. And I read it again a second time—moving, without realizing until after I sat down, into the quietest, most private space in my home. I read the essay again, confirming to myself that here was a piece of writing I would have to read again and again. And again.

“Kinds of Water” is about a man and a woman walking La Compostela. It begins on June 20th in St. Jean Pied de Port and ends, 35 magnificent pages later, on July 26th, in Finisterre. It’s about pilgrims of all kinds, about wolves, about water, about photographs and poetry, it’s about longing and power relations and hard walking, it’s about bread and rocks. About journeys.

It is probably the single most interesting piece of writing I have read all year.

I feel unable to write properly about it until I’ve read it several more times, so I won’t say much here and hope that in a few months, when I’ll read it again, or maybe next year, when I’ll read it a fourth time and a fifth time, I’ll find some way to describe its movement and content.

There is no question I covet that conversation. There is no question I am someone starving. There is no question I am making this journey to find out what the appetite is.

Or maybe I won’t, because maybe this is the kind of essay I can only keep for myself. And the only way to do that is not to talk about it.

Today, I’ll just leave a hint of it for you:


Gorge after gorge, turning, turning. Caverns of sunset, falling, falling away—just a single vast gold air breathed out by beings — they must have been marvelous beings, those gold-breathers. Down. Purple and green islands. Cleft and groined and gigantically pocked like something left behind after all the oceans vanished one huge night: the mountains. Their hills fold and fold again, fold away, down. Folded into the dens and rocks of the hills are ghost towns. Broken streets end in them, like a sound, nowhere. Shadow is inside. We walk (oh quietly) even so — breaking lines of force, someone’s. Houses stand in their stones. Each house an empty socket. Some streaked with red inside. Words once went on in there — no. I don’t believe that. Words never went on there.


4 Responses to “Anne Carson – “Kinds of Water””

  1. roughghosts

    This is breath taking! I refuse to allow you to keep it for yourself—I must have it too. 🙂

    I searched and it is available in a volume entitled Plainwater: Essays and Poetry. Here in Canada it’s available in print and electronically, but I imagine it is fairly accessible elsewhere. I put it on my wish list and will order it shortly.

    I have found myself collecting and reading a large number of poetry and essay books lately. These are not works that I necessarily want or need to read from cover to cover at once and dash off a blog post. But to linger over an essay or suite or poems and share that is truly a special gift to other readers. Thank you for this.

  2. Michelle

    I wondered if it was collected somewhere with some of her other writing, and meant to look for it, so you have saved me the trouble. Thank you! I am slowly gathering up everything Anne Carson has ever written, almost all of it work that I read and re-read. I’m so glad you enjoyed the small hints I put here, and when you do read it, I look forward to your thoughts.

  3. MarinaSofia

    Like you, when I read something that is so deeply meaningful and that I care really deeply about, I find it very difficult to review. I want to live with it, engage with it, reread it, and any attempt to describe it can sound rather trite: ‘that was an emotional read’ or ‘I really liked that’. I too am enamoured of Anne Carson, although I haven’t gone yet through her complete works.

    • Michelle

      I feel very lucky that Carson has written so much, it will take me such a long time to read everything she’s written. But there is something really special about discovering a piece of writing, like this essay, that I know I’ll go back to and re-read, and know that it will just get better each time re-read it.

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