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“i In view of the fading animals the proliferation of sewers and fears the sea clogging, the air nearing extinction we should be kind, we should take warning, we should forgive each other Instead we are opposite, we touch as though attacking, the gifts we bring even in good faith maybe warp in our hands to implements, to manoeuvres ii Put down the target of me you guard inside your binoculars, in turn I will surrender this aerial photograph (your vulnerable sections marked in red) I have found so useful See, we are alone in the dormant field, the snow that cannot be eaten or captured iii Here there are no armies here there is no money It is cold and getting colder, We need each others’ breathing, warmth, surviving is the only war we can afford, stay walking with me, there is almost time / if we can only make it as far as the (possibly) last summer”—Margaret Atwood, “They are hostile nations”
“In the daylight we know what's gone is gone, but at night it's different. Nothing gets finished, not dying, not mourning; the dead repeat themselves, like clumsy drunks lurching sideways through the doors we open them in sleep; these slurred guests, never entirely welcome, even those we have loved the most, especially those we have loved the most, returning from where we shoved them away too quickly: from the ground, from the water, they clutch at us, they clutch at us, we won't let go.”—Margaret Atwood, from “Two Dreams, 2”, in Eating Fire
“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 aims, 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.”—Margaret Atwood, We are hard on each other
The Female Body, Margaret Atwood
I agree, it’s a hot topic. But only one? Look around, there’s a wide range. Take my own, for instance.
I get up in the morning. My topic feels like hell. I sprinkle it with water, brush parts of it, rub it with towels, powder it, add lubricant. I dump in the fuel and away goes my topic, my topical topic, nearsighted topic, my topic with back problems, my badly-behaved topic, my vulgar topic, my outrageous topic, my aging topic, my topic that is out of the question and anyway still can’t spell, in its oversized coat and worn winter boots, scuttling along the sidewalk as if it were flesh and blood, hunting for what’s out there, an avocado, an alderman, an adjective, hungry as ever.
The basic Female Body comes with the following accessories: garter belt, panti-girdle, crinoline, camisole, bustle, brassiere, stomacher, chemise, virgin zone, spike heels, nose ring, veil, kid gloves, fish-net stockings, fichu, bandeau, Merry Widow, weepers, chokers, barrettes, bangles, beads, lorgnettes, feather boa, basic black, compact, Lycra stretch one-piece with modesty panel, designer peignoir, flannel nightie, lace teddy, bed, head.
The Female Body is made of transparent plastic and lights up when you plug it in. You press a button to illuminate the different systems. The Circulatory System is red, for the heart and arteries, purple for the veins; the Respiratory System is blue; the Lymphatic System is yellow ;the Digestive System is green, with liver and kidneys in aqua. The nerves are done in orange and the brain is pink. The skeleton, as you might expect, is white.
He said, I won’t have one of those things in the house. It gives a young girl a false notion of beauty, not to mention anatomy. If a real woman was built like that she’d fall on her face.
She said, If we don’t let her have one like all the other girls she’ll feel singled out. It’ll become an issue. She’ll long for one and she’ll long to turn into one. Repression breeds sublimation. You know that.
He said, It’s not just the pointy plastic tits, it’s the wardrobe. The wardrobes and the stupid male doll, what’s his name, the one with the underwear glued on.
She said, Better to get it over with when she’s young. He said, All right but don’t let me see it.
She came whizzing down the stairs, thrown like a dart. She was stark naked. Her hair had been chopped off, her head was turned back to front, she was missing some toes and she’d been tattooed all over her body with purple ink, in a scrollwork design. She hit a potted azalea, trembled there for a moment like a botched angel, and fell.
He said, I guess we’re safe.
The Female Body has many uses. It’s been used as a door-knocker, a bottle-opener, as a clock with a ticking belly, as something to hold up lampshades, as a nutcracker, just squeeze the brass legs together and out comes your nut. It bears torches, lifts victorious wreaths, grows copper wings and raises aloft a ring of neon stars; whole buildings rest on its marble heads.
It sells cars, beer, shaving lotion, cigarettes, hard liquor; it sells diet plans and diamonds, and desire in tiny crystal bottles. Is this the face that launched a thousand products? You bet it is, but don’t get any funny big ideas, honey, that smile is a dime a dozen.
It does not merely sell, it is sold. Money flows into this country or that country, files in, practically crawls in, suitful after suitful, lured by all those hairless pre-teen legs. Listen, you want to reduce the national debt, don’t you? Aren’t you patriotic? That’s the spirit. That’s my girl.
She’s a natural resource, a renewable one luckily, because those things wear out so quickly. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Shoddy goods.
One and one equals another one. Pleasure in the female is not a requirement. Pair-bonding is stronger in geese. We’re not talking about love, we’re talking about biology. That’s how we all got here, daughter.
Snails do it differently. They’re hermaphrodites, and work in threes.
Each female body contains a female brain. Handy. Makes things work. Stick pins in it and you get amazing results. Old popular songs. Short circuits. Bad dreams.
Anyway: each of these brains has two halves. They’re joined together by a thick cord; neural pathways flow from one to the other, sparkles of electric information watching to and fro. Like light on waves. Like a conversation. How does a woman know? She listens. She listens in.
The male brain, now, that’s a different matter. Only a thin connection. Space over here, time over there, music and arithmetic in their own sealed compartments. The right brain doesn’t know what the left brain is doing. Good for aiming, though, for hitting the target when you pull the trigger. What’s the target? Who’s the target? Who cares? What matters is hitting it. That’s the male brain for you. Objective.
This is why men are so sad, why they feel so cut off, why they think of themselves as orphans cast adrift, footloose and stringless in the deep void. What void? she asks. What are you talking about? The void of the Univers,e he says, and she says Oh and looks out the window and tries to get a handle on it, but it’s no use, there’s too much going on, too many rustlings in the leaves, too many voices, so she says, Would you like a cheese sandwich, a piece of cake, a cup of tea? And he grinds his teeth because she doesn’t understand, and wanders off, not just alone but Alone, lot in the dark, lost in the skull, searching for the other half, the twin who could complete him.
Then it comes to him: he’s lost the Female Body! Look, it shines in the gloom, far ahead, a vision of wholeness, of ripeness, like a giant melon, like an apple, like a metaphor for breast in a bad sex novel; it shines like a balloon, like a foggy noon, a watery moon, shimmering in its egg of light.
Catch it. Put it in a pumpkin, in a high tower, in a compound, in a chamber, in a house, in a room. Quick, stick a leash on it, a lock, a chain, some pain, settle it down, so it can never get away from you again.