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.