The Testaments

Image result for pink sand palmtrees

The long awaited and instantly famous sequel to The Handmaids Tale has been released at last.  The Margaret Atwood novel is already shortlisted, prior to publication, for the Booker Prize.

On this day I am happy to feature one of her poems.  I empathise with the angst of postcard writing, what do you say and why bother?  You’ll be home before it arrives.  I get the disjoint between the hyperreal simulacrum of the holiday paradise and the reality of a place where humans actually live, generally on a lower income level than their visitors.  I see behind the curtain.  I went to Disneyland and where others saw fantasy I saw plastic.

“Wish you were here”.  A phrase that always made me uncomfortable.  On the one hand it sounds like you are saying “I wish you were here”.  But why?  Are you bored without them?  Do you need them to entertain you?  Can’t last a week on your own?  How desperate do you sound?

On the other hand maybe it says “Don’t you wish you were here?”  Sucker!  I’m on holiday and you’re stuck in wet, cold. miserable Milton Keynes, Mullingar, or Midland Michigan.  Sounds positively mean to say that.

Maybe you just want to tell them you have time to revisit some old favourites and listen to some decent music.  “How I wish, how I wish you were here, we’re just two lost souls, 
swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”

 

Postcards; by Margaret Atwood

I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive.

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.

Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.

 

Image result for wish you were here

A face that launched 1000 ships

Atwood

 

Today is the birthday of Margaret Atwood, born 1939 and still going strong.  If you read my blog regularly you will know I love her poetry and she features regularly on these pages.  Atwood is more than a poet, she is a wordsmith, a crafter of meaning through the manipulation of letter signs.  He poems are finely wrought pieces of jewelry.  They shine in the darkness of ignorance and light up our small lives like beacons of hope and beauty. Guides to a better life.

 

Helen Of Troy Does Countertop Dancing: by Margaret Atwood

The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.

Air crash investigation

Today an Egypt Air flight went missing on its journey from Paris to Cairo.  We now presume it is in the sea.  “Experts” suspect a terrorist act.  It is unlikely to be a story with a happy ending.  I could go on a rant about terrorism, the pointlessness of causing random death, the theft of lives.  I could, but it would be just as pointless.  It amounts to nothing more than slactivism.

So instead I’ll give you a poem about drowning which I find very funny in a black kind of way.  Life is too short for misery and moaning.  Laughing feels better.  Laugh in adversity.  Laugh at the absurdity of the small mindedness of those who believe that their murder death kill will make any difference to the flight of a swallow.

 

This is a photograph of me: by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.)

Coup d’Etat

Trump

Currently reading Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”.  It is oddly prophetic in describing how the USA is subverted by Christian Fundamentalist Military who suspend the constitution and replace democracy with a police state.  The events set out by Atwood involve a rise in Islamic fundamentalism (remember this was written back in the 1980’s before anyone ever heard of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.)

An assassination of the President of the USA and an attack on the Capitol wipes out the Government in one fell swoop.  The question is of course who instigated the attack?  Was it the Islamic fundamentalists or was it the Christian fundamentalist right wing?  The events are a mirror of what happened in Germany in the 1930’s.  Hitler did not have enough seats in the parliament to form a government.  He began by eliminating his main rivals, the Communists.  The Reichstag building was burned down and the event was blamed on the communists who were eliminated from parliament.  Hitler then cut a deal with the Catholic right wing to suspend government by passing the Enablement Act.  Stormtroopers prevented Social Democrat moderates from entering the parliament building for the vote.  Democracy was destroyed by a minority group of bullies.

Atwood uses this as a model for her own military takeover of the USA.  Does it sound plausible that the hard right wing could suspend democracy?  Just look at the rise of the Tea Party republicans!  The rise in Islamic fundamentalism has generated a polarising influence in US politics.  The result is a candidate like Donald Trump who speaks of banning muslims from entry to the USA and building a wall across the Mexican border.  In times of fear and uncertainty voters seek simple answers from strong leaders.  What they get are demagogues and dictators.

The 9/11 attacks targeted the world trade centre, the Pentagon and the White House.  What would have happened if the President had been killed?  US democracy is in a precarious position.  The Handmaid’s Tale is like a manual for suspension of democracy.  It seems to me that some of the hard right have been studying up on it.  No wonder they want the book removed from required reading lists in US schools.

Maybe allowing the US population to own all those guns is not such a bad idea?  What do you think?

 

 

Winter’s final month

by Maira Kalman

by Maira Kalman

With Valentines day behind us, Fat Thursday, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday all duly celebrated we can at last settle into the rhythm of misery that truly defines the second month of the year and the final month of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

How the hell did this February get so many “days”?

Gird your loins, the next bit of light relief is St Patricks day, on March 17th.

February ; by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.