A critical reading of Anne Carson's poem “Apostle Town” involves both teasing out the poem’s meaning and then analyzing whether or not the poet achieved her purpose.
Let’s begin by focusing on the poem’s meaning. Someone has died, apparently someone close to the speaker and her companions, although we never find out who the deceased person is. The speaker than notes that after the death, “It was windy every day.” The wind opposes the speaker and her companions, blocking them, making them shout sideways at each other. It puts spaces between them that seem insurmountable.
This wind serves as a metaphor for the grief surrounding the speaker and her companions after the death of a loved one. Like the wind, grief opposes the bereaved, blocking them, interfering with their communication, putting spaces between them as they try to cope. These spaces, the speaker continues, are empty yet solid, “black and grievous.” She then describes them using the simile of the gaps in an old woman's teeth. Apparently, the speaker is thinking of a particular old woman, someone her deceased loved one knew years before when she was still beautiful and alive with nerves “like palace fire.” She is not like this any longer. Time has passed. Changes have happened.
The poet’s purpose here seems to be to reflect upon the nature of grief and change. The figurative elements are quite appropriate. Wind does symbolize grief very well, and “nerves ... like palace fire” provides a vivid image of something that once was but is now lost. Notice, too, how the poem’s structure contributes to its content. Each short line ends with a period, a full stop, which makes the poem seem halting and hesitant. This is exactly how people sometimes speak when they are struggling to express their grief and to reflect on the mysterious changes wrought by time. Indeed, we can say that the poet does achieve her purpose, as she encourages her readers to think about what happens when someone dies and other people are left to cope with death and time and change.