Canadian Author, Poet, Critic, Essayist and Environmental Activist
Margaret Atwood, fully Margaret Eleanor Atwood
Canadian Author, Poet, Critic, Essayist and Environmental Activist
You shouldn't do that, said Laura. You could set yourself on fire.
You think I'm not a goddess? Try me. This is a torch song. Touch me and you'll burn.
You wake up filled with dread. There seems no reason for it. Morning light sifts through the window, there is birdsong, you can't get out of bed. It's something about the crumpled sheets hanging over the edge like jungle foliage, the terry slippers gaping their dark pink mouths for your feet, the unseen breakfast--some of it in the refrigerator you do not dare to open--you will not dare to eat. What prevents you? The future. The future tense, immense as outer space. You could get lost there. No. Nothing so simple. The past, its density and drowned events pressing you down, like sea water, like gelatin filling your lungs instead of air. Forget all that and let's get up. Try moving your arm. Try moving your head. Pretend the house is on fire and you must run or burn. No, that one's useless. It's never worked before. Where is it coming form, this echo, this huge No that surrounds you, silent as the folds of the yellow curtains, mute as the cheerful Mexican bowl with its cargo of mummified flowers? (You chose the colors of the sun, not the dried neutrals of shadow. God knows you've tried.) Now here's a good one: you're lying on your deathbed. You have one hour to live. Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?
You want the truth, of course. You want me to put two and two together. But two and two doesn?t necessarily get you the truth. Two and two equals a voice outside the window. Two and two equals the wind. The living bird is not its labeled bones.
You wonder about her crime. She was condemned to death for stealing clothes from her employer, from the wife of her employer. She wished to make herself more beautiful. This desire in servants was not legal.
Young girls have such sweet tooths. Or is that sweet teeth?
Your friend is intellectually honorable, Jimmy's mother would say. He doesn't lie to himself.
Your hand is a warm stone I hold between two words.
Your righteous eyes, your laconic trigger-fingers people the streets with villains: as you move, the air in front of you blossoms with targets and you leave behind you a heroic
You're dead, Cordelia.' No I'm not. 'Yes you are. You're dead. Lie down.
You're not my real parents, every child has thought. I'm not your real child. But with orphans, it's true. What freedom, to thumb your nose authentically!
You're sad because you're sad. It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical. Go see a shrink or take a pill, or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll you need to sleep. Well, all children are sad but some get over it. Count your blessings. Better than that, buy a hat. Buy a coat or a pet. Take up dancing to forget.
You refuse to own yourself; you permit others to do it for you
You should not be sad, he said, gazing at me with his melancholy, leathery walrus eyes. It must be the love. But you are young and pretty, you will have time to be sad later. The French are connoisseurs of sadness, they know all the kinds. This is why they have bidets. It is criminal, the love, he said, patting my shoulder. But none is worse.?
When did the body first set out on its own adventures? Snowman thinks; after having ditched its old travelling companions, the mind and the soul, for whom it had once been considered a mere corrupt vessel or else a puppet acting out their dramas for them, or else bad company, leading the other two astray. it must have got tired of the soul?s constant nagging and whining and the anxiety-driven intellectual web-spinning of the mind, distracting it whenever it was getting its teeth into something juicy or its fingers into something good. It had dumped the other two back there somewhere, leaving them stranded in some damp sanctuary or stuffy lecture hall while it made a beeline for the topless bars, and it had dumped culture along with them: music and painting and poetry and plays. Sublimation, all of it; nothing but sublimation, according to the body. Why not cut to the chase?
When you're unhinged, things make their way out of you that should be kept inside, and other things get in that ought to be shut out. The locks lose their powers. The guards go to sleep. The passwords fail.
Why can't I believe? she asked the darkness. Behind her eyelids she saw an animal. It was golden color, with gentle green eyes and canine teeth, and curly wool instead of fur. It opened its mouth, but it did not speak. Instead, it yawned. It gazed at her. She gazed at it. You are the effect of a carefully calibrated blend of plant toxins, she told it.
Women have curious ways of hurting someone else. They hurt themselves instead; or else they do it so the guy doesn't even know he's been hurt until much later. Then he finds out. Then his dick falls off.
You can?t buy it, but it has a price, said Oryx. Everything has a price.
When I am lonely for boys it?s their bodies I miss. I study their hands lifting the cigarettes in the darkness of the movie theaters, the slope of a shoulder, the angle of a hip. Looking at them sideways, I examine them in different lights. My love for them is visual: that is the part of them I would like to possess. Don?t move, I think. Stay like that, let me have that.
When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, to crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things and people too -- leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back. Time in dreams is frozen. You can never get away from where you've been.
Why do men feel threatened by women? I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, a male friend of mine. It's often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don't want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren't one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. A male friend of mine also gives?let us admit it?a certain weight to the opinions expressed.) So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. I mean, I said, men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power. They're afraid women will laugh at them, he said. Undercut their world view. Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, why do women feel threatened by men? They're afraid of being killed, they said.
Women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society of dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.
You can?t make an omelet without breaking eggs, is what he says. We thought we could do better. Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better?
When I get out of here, if I'm ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, yet another remove. It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many. But if you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you've made it this far, please remember: you will never be subject to the temptation or feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman. It's difficult to resist, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold it or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest. Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn't really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.