November 13, 2017

From Gerald R. Lucas

Circe, Mud Poems (excerpt)
By: Margaret Atwood (1974)

People have come from all over to consult me, bringing their limbs

which have unaccountably fallen off, they don’t know why,

my front porch is waist deep in hands, bringing their blood

hoarded in pickle jars, bringing their fears about their hearts,

which they either can or can’t hear at night. They offer me
their pain, hoping in return for a word, a word, any word

from those they have assaulted daily, with shovels, axes,

electric saws, the silent ones, the ones they accused of being

silent because they would not speak in the received language.

I spend my days with my head pressed to the earth, to stones,
to shrubs, collecting the few muted syllables left over; in the

evenings I dispense them, a letter at a time, trying to be fair,

to the clamoring suppliants, who have built elaborate stair-

cases across the level ground so they can approach me on

their knees. Around me everything is worn down, the grass,
the roots, the soil, nothing is left but the bared rock.

Come away with me, he said, we will live on a desert island.

I said, I am a desert island. It was not what he had in mind.

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I made no choice

I decided nothing

One day you simply appeared in your stupid boat,

your killer’s hands, your disjointed body, jagged as a shipwreck,

skinny-ribbed, blue-eyed, scorched, thirsty, the usual,
pretending to be—what? a survivor?

Those who say they want nothing

want everything.

It was not this greed

that offended me, it was the lies. 10

Nevertheless I gave you

the food you demanded for your journey

you said you planned; but you planned no journey

and we both knew it.

You’ve forgotten that,
you made the right decision.

The trees bend in the wind, you eat, you rest,

you think of nothing,
your mind, you say,

is like your hands, vacant:

vacant is not innocent. 20

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This story was told to me by another traveler, just passing through. It took place in a foreign country, as everything does.

When he was young he and another boy constructed a woman

out of mud. She began at the neck and ended at the knees

and elbows: the stuck to the essentials. Every sunny day

they would row across to the island where she lived, in the

afternoon when the sun had warmed her, and make love to
her, sinking with ecstasy into her soft moist belly, her brown

wormy flesh where small weeds had already rooted. They

would take turns, they were not jealous, she preferred them

both. Afterwards they would repair her, making her hips

more spacious, enlarging her breasts with their shining stone

His love for her was perfect, he could say anything to her, into

her he spilled his entire life. She was swept away in a sudden

flood. He said no woman since then has equaled her.

Is this what you would like me to be, this mud woman? Is
this what I would like to be? It would be so simple.

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It’s the story that counts. No use telling me it isn’t a story,

or not the same story. I know you’ve fulfilled everything

you promised, you love me, we sleep till noon and we spend

the rest of the day eating, the food is superb, I don’t deny

that. But I worry about the future. In the story the boat
disappears one day over the horizon, just disappears, and it

doesn’t say what happens then. On the island that is. It’s

the animals I’m afraid of, they weren’t part of the bargain,

in fact you didn’t mention them, they may transform them-

selves back into men. Am I really immortal, does the sun
care, when you leave will you give me back the words? Don’t

evade, don’t pretend you won’t leave after all: you leave in

the story and the story is ruthless.