Three Desk Objects, Margaret Atwood

Making coffee this morning, I heard an interview with Margaret Atwood about her new, upcoming book of poetry, Dearly. I have always loved Margaret Atwood. In fact, I’ve got a pile of her novels by my bed from the library as I want to go back through all her novels and read those I have not read for years. Part of this was to see if they would be good for my eldest daughter and secondly because I read The Testament last year and loved it. I remember fondly reading one of her novels, Oryx and Crake, in its entirety on a plane journey to the USA once. I have generally bought her books each time they come out, although I realise now I have some gaps and want to own the entire collection. I love the way she imagines the future, that women’s roles are endlessly reimagined and reconceptualised in different futures and realities. So many of them grounded in what we know today though so you have that dawning realisation … this could happen. The horrific society of The Handmaid’s Tale has, unfortunately recently seemed nearer some realities, and as Atwood has said all the things that women suffer in that novel have occurred somewhere in history. I realised though I know much less of her poetry. I would love to read her new book and this morning she was talking about poetry as grounding and very appropriate for the moments we find ourselves in at the moment. Given my “revitalised desk” theme of the moment, this poem seemed apt. I often wonder the history of items that come into my house, what they have seen and experienced that I will never see. Atwood encapsulates this here albeit in a dark fashion.

Margaret Atwood

Three Desk Objects

What suns had to rise and set
what eyes had to blink out
what hands and fingers
had to let go of their heat

before you appeared on my desk
black light
portable and radiant

and you, my electric typewriter
with your cord and hungry plug
drinking a sinister transfusion
from the other side of the wall

what histories of slaughter
have left these scars on your keys

What multiple deaths have set loose this clock
the small wheels that grind
their teeth under the metal scalp

My cool machines
resting there so familiar
so hard and perfect

I am afraid to touch you
I think you will cry out in pain

I think you will be warm, like skin.

April 1969 from Poetry

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