Wednesday, July 23, 2008

True Stories...

I read this this morning. The post itself is about the subconscious racism shining through in how two women in similar situations are either humananized or dehumanized by the language used to describe them. They discuss it more effectively than I might, so I'll leave it to them.

This weekend I picked up True Stories, a book of poetry by Margaret Atwood. She has never been one to soft-step touchy subjects, but the poems contained in this book struck me as particularly... 'brutal' is not the word I am looking for and neither is 'gruesome'. Either of those words suggests some intent to harm or titilate, and I detect none of that here. Maybe 'direct' could be the word, but compared to how these poems communicate that word seems timid. They illuminate an unblinking awareness and put up a challenge to our tendency to beautify reality in an attempt to forget/ignore the harshness of the world. Yesterday i read the poem "Christmas Carols", which starts off, "Children do not always mean/ hope. To some they mean despair." Elaborating a few lines later, "This one had her pelvis/ broken by hammers so the child/ could be extracted. Then she was thrown away,/ useless, a ripped sack." Before and after this description were the descriptions of two other women who killed themselves because of pregnancies they were unwilling parties to, which were both gruesome descriptions, but somehow the image of a woman gutted so the child could be removed and then cast aside knocked the wind out of me. It seemed particularly barbaric, like it couldn't be believably imagined out of nowhere and could only be snatched from real life to be in this poem. The descriptions of a woman raped and killing herself or another dying while trying a home abortion rather than be forced to carry a child again seemed things that could be pulled out of the back of your mind, not because they are unbelievable, but rather because they are, however horrible, somewhat commonplace (or they are where access to abortion and birth control are blocked). The existance of either is not something any sentient adult could be shocked to know has happened. One might be shocked being presented with it (and you are when you read this poem), but the shock is at having it laid out in front of you, not in the possibility of such things happening.

But the child extracted from the mother like pea from a pod struck me as unreal. Not that I doubted that such things could happen, but I found myself wondering where this thing had happened. This was not a generalized possible horror, but felt like it must be a specific one, a terrible thing Ms. Atwood had read about somewhere and incorporated into this poem for its punch, some atrocity acted out in some war zone at the extreme edges of desperation. These thoughts were just sort of automatic in my mind. I didn't spend the last day meditating on this poem; one should never stare too long at something clear and searingly bright. Rather I read it through several times and each time kept sticking on this image of a woman as a wrapper, to be removed and thrown away like trash once the desired product was taken out.

Perhaps that is exactly the point I was trying to make: this struck me as something that had happened to a woman, one woman; not a thing that happens to women, a thing that could happen to any women.

Then, one day later, I stumble across an article on two of these crimes, one recent one a few years ago, both in this country. They weren't in war zones or on the fringes of humanity. It isn't a crime that happened to one woman; it is a crime which happens to women, though apparently the color of the victim affects how it is reported. Perhaps the authors of those articles could use Ms. Atwood's admonition from later in the poem: "Think twice then/ before you worship turned furrows, or pay/ lip service to some full belly/ or other, or single out one girl to play/ the magic mother, in blue/ & white, up on that pedestal,/ perfect & intact, distinct/ from those who aren't. Which means/ everyone else."

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