"Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing" by Margaret Atwood
  1. The world is full of women
  2. who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
  3. if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
  4. Get some self-respect
  5. and a day-job.
  6. Right. And minimum wage,
  7. and varicose veins, just standing
  8. in one place for eight hours
  9. bundled up to the neck, instead of
  10. naked as a meat sandwich.
  11. Selling gloves, or something.
  12. Instead of what I do sell.
  13. You have to have talent
  14. to peddle a thing so nebulous
  15. and without material form.
  16. Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
  17. you cut it, but I've a choice
  18. of how, and I'll take the money.
  19. /
  20. I do give value.
  21. Like preachers, I sell vision,
  22. like perfume ads, desire
  23. or its facsimile. Like jokes
  24. or war, it's all in the timing.
  25. I sell men back their worst suspicions:
  26. that everything's for sale,
  27. and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
  28. a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
  29. when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
  30. are still connected.
  31. Such hatred leaps in them,
  32. my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
  33. hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
  34. and upturned eyes, imploring
  35. but ready to snap at my ankles,
  36. I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
  37. to step on ants. I keep the beat,
  38. and dance for them because
  39. they can't. The music smells like foxes,
  40. crisp as heated metal
  41. searing the nostrils
  42. or humid as August, hazy and languorous
  43. as a looted city the day after,
  44. when all the rape's been done
  45. already, and the killing,
  46. and the survivors wander around
  47. looking for garbage
  48. to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.
  49. Speaking of which, it's the smiling
  50. tires me out the most.
  51. This, and the pretence
  52. that I can't hear them.
  53. And I can't, because I'm after all
  54. a foreigner to them.
  55. The speech here is all warty gutturals,
  56. obvious as a slab of ham,
  57. but I come from the province of the gods
  58. where meanings are lilting and oblique.
  59. I don't let on to everyone,
  60. but lean close, and I'll whisper:
  61. My mother was raped by a holy swan.
  62. You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
  63. That's what we tell all the husbands.
  64. There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
  65. /
  66. Not that anyone here
  67. but you would understand.
  68. The rest of them would like to watch me
  69. and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
  70. as in a clock factory or abattoir.
  71. Crush out the mystery.
  72. Wall me up alive
  73. in my own body.
  74. They'd like to see through me,
  75. but nothing is more opaque
  76. than absolute transparency.
  77. Look--my feet don't hit the marble!
  78. Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
  79. I hover six inches in the air
  80. in my blazing swan-egg of light.
  81. You think I'm not a goddess?
  82. Try me.
  83. This is a torch song.
  84. Touch me and you'll burn.