Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing
By Margaret Atwood
The world is full of women
who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything's for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can't. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it's the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look--my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.
Monday morning we drove into Hollywood, where we met my beloved
Though it was after 8 when we left the restaurant, we then drove to Santa Monica. Paul and I had never been there and wanted to see it before we left, since we weren't sure when we'd be back despite our track record of four trips west in three years. It was fully night by the time we parked and took about 15 minutes to walk to the pier. Once we arrived I immediately walked down the boardwalk steps to put my feet in the Pacific; no amusement park was going to tempt me away from the ocean, even at night on a beach where I doubted I wanted to know what some of the things stuck in the sand might be. It smelled strongly of ocean and boardwalk -- fried food, popcorn, sweat -- and the crowds were substantial even though it was a weeknight. I tried taking photos of the light displays from the pier, which rivaled Vegas in places. Santa Monica is a study in contrasts: expensive stores and lots of tourists alongside the largest homeless population I've seen anywhere outside certain sections of D.C. After we walked on the beach while David and Molly took Maddie on one of the rides, we stopped in McDonald's because Adam needed a bathroom and I got into a conversation with two very young, clearly homeless kids who said they had moved there (I suspect ran away to there) and found that none of their L.A. dreams came true. Really sad.
Tuesday morning we woke, at breakfast, packed, said sad goodbyes to Paul's relatives and drove out of L.A. toward the north. The landscape changed slowly from mountainous desert to less mountainous desert to farmland (we passed a huge cattle farm that could be smelled for miles before it could be seen) to green fields to hilly irrigated agriculture until finally, as we approached Sacramento, there were more evergreens than palms and large green bushes instead of brush. We continued on to Willows, where we checked into an interim motel, took the kids swimming and ate for dinner the lunch we had packed for a picnic, only to discover that the mid-state rest stops were closed.
Santa Monica Pier from the beach