Walking through the ruins
on your way to work
that do not look like ruins
with the sunlight pouring over
the seen world
like hail or melted
silver, that bright
and magnificent, each leaf
and stone quickened and specific in it,
and you can't hold it,
you can't hold any of it. Distance surrounds you,
marked out by the ends of your arms
when they are stretched to their fullest.
You can walk no further than this,
you think, walking forward,
pushing the distance in front of you
like a metal cart on wheels
with its barriers and horizontals.
Appearance melts away from you,
the offices and pyramids
on the horizon shimmer and cease.
No one can enter that circle
you have made, that clean circle
of dead space you have made
and stay inside,
mourning because it is clean.
Then there's the girl, in the white dress,
meaning purity, or the failure
to be any colour. She has no hands, it's true.
The scream that happened to the air
when they were taken off
surrounds her now like an aureole
of hot sand, of no sound.
Everything has bled out of her.
Only a girl like this
can know what's happened to you.
If she were here she would
reach out her arms towards
you now, and touch you
with her absent hands
and you would feel nothing, but you would be
touched all the same.
About the Author: Margaret Atwood is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including works inspired by fairy tale themes such as "Bluebeard’s Egg" and "The Robber Bride." She lives in Toronto, Canada. For more information, please visit the Margaret Atwood Society. This poem was inspired by the fairy tale The Girl Without Hands.
Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Atwood; O.W. Toad 1996. The poem originally appeared in Morning in the Burned House, published by McClelland and Stewart in Canada; Houghton Mifflin in the U.S.; and Virago in the U.K. This poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.