Margaret Atwood is a favorite author, but this is my first read of her poetry. My favorite poem from Morning in the Burned House:
CRESSIDA TO TROILUS: A GIFT
You forced me to give you poisonous gifts.
I can put this no other way.
Everything I gave was to get rid of you
as one gives to a beggar: There. Go away.
The first time, the first sentence even
was in answer to your silent clamour
and not for love, and therefore not
a gift, but to get you out of my hair
or whatever part of me you had slid into
by stealth, by creeping up the stairs,
so that whenever I turned, watering
the narcissus, brushing my teeth,
there you were, just barely, in the corner
of my eye. Peripheral. A floater. No one
ever told you greed and hunger
are not the same.
How did all of this start?
With Pity, that flimsy angel,
with her wet pink eyes and slippery wings
of mucous membrane.
She causes so much trouble.
But nothing I ever gave was good for you;
it was like white bread to goldfish.
They cram and cram, and it kills them,
and they drift in the pool, belly-up,
making stunned faces
and playing on our guilt
as if their own toxic gluttony
was not their fault.
There you are still, outside the window,
still with your hands out, still
pallid and fishy-eyed, still acting
stupidly innocent and starved.
Well, take this then. Have some more body.
Drink and eat.
You’ll just make yourself sick. Sicker.
You won’t be cured.
More lines and stanzas of note:
left lipstick imprints the shape of grateful, rubbery
sighs on the cigarettes of men
I hardly knew and didn’t want to.
crisp as heated metal
The speech here is all warty gutterals,
obvious as a slab of ham
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
the lost syllable for “I” that did not mean separate
Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win.
capon – castrated roosterc
sauve qui peut – every man for himself
arpeggios – a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously.
abbatoir – slaughterhouse
carapace – a protective, decorative, or disguising shell
sic transit – thus passes
plangent – Loud, reverberating, and often melancholy
sibilants – Of, characterized by, or producing a hissing sound like that of (s) or (sh)
portage – carrying water craft or cargo over land, either around an obstacle in a river, or between two bodies of water