1.
It is my last day here. I don’t know where and how I’ll find myself in a few hours. Probably trying not to cry as I try to pack my luggage for what seemed to be the fifth try, wondering how I can fit everything in. Knowing that everything I bought is merely a souvenir of what this place means to me, and not nearly enough to encompass all of what I’ve felt and learned and discovered. It’s funny how so much of a tourist I still am, but sad, too, because it means saying goodbye is inevitable.

2.
It took me twenty-two years to leave the last time. And then another eight for this particular journey. How much longer for the next one, I wonder.

3.
I am thinking of the man sat on the low bench yesterday, a pot of tea before him, the attention of strangers. He was smoothing out a tiny piece of silver foil with the tips of his fingers. I felt like I owned this moment, this few precious minutes. I have captured him at work and now it is mine—to share to people I know, to shape into a story or a poem.

I watched him as he turned the foil into a shape of a leaf. His hands were steady, his breath slow. All of his being focused on his art. We didn’t matter. This is when I realised, horrified but also with a sense of rude awakening: he has captivated me. I am there now, under the pad of his fingers, he is pressing my heart very gently onto the wood. This part of myself is in a painting inside a temple, from which I will never leave.

4.
How does one fall in love with a city? I am thinking, exactly like this.

The Moment
Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

I could get lost in the future, yes. I would like that. Much healthier than the past, where I drown again and again.

Up
Margaret Atwood

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 in on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one’s useless.
It’s never worked before.

Where is it coming from, 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 colours 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?

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.

If I love you — the same question I keep asking myself, over and over.

We are hard
Margaret Atwood

i

We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aim, our choices
turn them criminal.

ii

Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them

iii

A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?

iv

Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?

Your body is not a word,
it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only
here or not here.

From Selected Poems (1965-1975) by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987.

March is almost ending, and I haven’t written anything I could be proud of. Drought, drought, says the Muse. But it’s a lie. I am running away because I don’t want to think about all the things I have to say.

You Begin
Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

From Selected Poems II (1976-1986) by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987. ()

I remember reading this back in college and feeling like Atwood has been in my head always.

Flying Inside Your Own Body
Margaret Atwood

Your lungs fill & spread themselves,
wings of pink blood, and your bones,
empty themselves and become hollow.
When you breathe in you’ll lift like a balloon
and your heart is too light & too huge,
beating with pure joy, with pure helium.
The sun’s white winds blow through you,
there’s nothing above you,
you see the earth now as an oval jewel,
radiant & seablue with love.
It’s only in dreams you can do this.
Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,
a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;
the sun’s a hot copper weight pressing straight
down on the think pink rind of your skull.
It’s always the moment before the gunshot.
You try & rise but you cannot.

From Selected Poems II (1976-1986) by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987.

Something to think about while I go out for errands today.

Habitation
Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

From Selected Poems (1965-1975) by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987.

Currently frustrated and out of touch with reality. I hate it when people tell me what I can and can’t do. I’ve lived in this body for twenty-one years now. You think I would’ve earned the right to know, even just a little bit, how it works.

Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing
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.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.