I have long been a fan of Margaret Atwood. Her stories and poems always touch me and, more importantly, they make me think.
This poem is from a collection of poems from 1976-1986, and it is no less relevant today than when it was written over 30 years ago. The sadness in the world has not lessened, the losses are as great, and still we want to look away.
If the world is to be a better place, we must see it for what it is — even, as Ms. Atwood says, through tears.
Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written
This is the place
you would rather not know about
this is the place that will inhabit you,
this is the place you cannot imagine,
this is the place that will finally defeat you.
where the word why shrivels and empties
itself. This is famine.
There is no poem you can write
about it, the sandpits
where so many were buried
& unearthed, the unendurable
pain still traced on their skins.
This did not happen last year
or forty years ago but last week.
This has been happening,
We make wreaths of adjective for them,
we count them like beads,
we turn them into statistics & litanies
and into poems like this one
They remain what they are.
The woman lies on the wet cement floor
under the unending light,
needle marks on her arms put there
to kill the brain
and wonders why she is dying.
She is dying because she said,
She is dying for the sake of the word,
It is her body, silent
and fingerless, writing this poem
It resembles an operation
but it is not one.
nor despite the spread legs, grunts
& blood, is it a birth.
Partly it’s a job,
partly it’s a display of skill
like a concerto.
It can be done badly
or well, they tell themselves
Partly it’s an art.
The facts of the world seen clearly
are seen through tears;
why tell me then
there is something wrong with my eyes?
To see clearly and without flinching,
without turning away,
this is agony, the eyes taped open
two inches from the sun.
What is it you see then?
Is it a bad dream, a hallucination?
Is it a vision?
What is it you hear?
The razor across the eyeball
is a detail form an old film.
It is also a truth.
Witness what you must bear.