Margaret Atwood, On The Surface Of The Word

Margaret Atwood

Alas Tensas, Masiel Mateos, 6 May 2018 – Twenty-six years ago, when books cost barely two modest pesos in national currency, I acquired the book On the Surface, a novel by Margaret Atwood, then unknown in Cuba. The recommendation did not come from a bookseller, nor from a writer, much less a publisher or a promoter; but from a young doctor doing his residency in psychiatry: I was his patient because, in that year, after having attempted suicide, I had to under rigorous psychiatric treatment.

The young man, who would later emigrate after being persecuted because of the hatred against the religion to which he had converted, suggested the book not for literary reasons, but simply with these words: “Let yourself fall under the spell of the landscape, find calm in that forest.” continue reading

According to him he gave me a book of peace against my attempts to overdose, a forest against the noxiousness of the loudspeakers, he gave me nature so that my eyes read in the chapters the existence of the forest, the axes against the trunks making logs, the grass, the beauty of those trees as scarce as the whales, as the protagonist says.

So Margaret and I became the young woman who returned in search of her father, through the woods, towards a lake, seeking her roots, an origin that must persecute her until the alienation.

A spell brought my eyes to the page, and we had a confident conversation, so intimate that I could forgive myself. Perhaps inadvertently, reading the pain, the losses of others, I felt less loss, with fewer sores on my head.

While talking, she looked for her father, I lost mine, she and I walked among the trees breathing pure air, renouncing the barbiturates, the medication that was injected again and again into my thighs, she holding me after each electric shock, putting the maple leaves over the sores from the wires on my forehead. The two in crisis wanted to enter the lake like the fish; fearing what would appear in the abandoned cabin, fearing the urine after the electricity.

I never forgot the scene of the lake, of that fish throwing itself at her over and over, not Atwood’s; I enter the lake, wash my body, clear my head, fall in love with this woman and this landscape… She conquered me with her truth, of forgiving her and forgiving me, of forgiving us both in that surface filled with forests and planes, of plagues and rain, of storms and breezes.

That was 27 years ago. Now her poetry returns, her stories, her attractive eyes not looking her age, her infinite beauty in hands that refuse to use a PC as long as there are sheets of paper to rip up; the woman with the words hardened to such a degree that they say she writes like a man, as if to write like a woman were not enough to call herself a writer. Good God, like ‘La Tula’ [Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda] wrote as a man, like Allende, like all of us who today are here writing with an enormous vagina between our hands breaking the oldest rite of segregation, measuring ourselves at the height of a genital organ.

Many call Margaret the mother goddess of Canadian letters. I believe that like every goddess she is creative, she is great, she is the voice of otherness; not only of northern women, but of the African woman, the Latin woman; the conflicts of her work are common in our time. A young heiress of her father’s study of insects, she brings to her writing her inner naturalist, her rural and curious heritage.

Her polyphony reveals thousands of women to us; her irreverence makes us take her words to our strikes, subtle protests where rebellions are limited. Her voice is a piece of land, clock and calendar of a woman in metaphors.

“All those times I was bored out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it,” says the poem “Bored.” He sawed the floor, but how many times do women saw the floor? How many times do we saw the staircase, the bridge, the fear of losing the desk, the office, the comfort of putting our feet up after dinner? No, it is only the husband; it is the director, the editor, the merchant who demands cleavage from the salesclerk; but like every one of the women in Margaret Atwood’s work, we are women who walk, climb, jump with her.

The writer defends her country, her nature; in her poetic cosmos is her mystery, air, water, forests. If the verse emits a complaint, in that complaint the woman squawks like a bird.

It is very painful that we took 26 years to rescue not only the literature of a country, but this woman who is able to join our common problems when she says: ” I wonder how many women denied themselves daughters, closed themselves in rooms, drew the curtains, so they could mainline words.” And, “A child is not a poem, a poem is not a child. there is no either/or. However.”

In this verse is my voice, or yours that you read there in apparent silence, but you think. And it is the voice of each one of we women who take up writing to exist. Because “behind the word is power” and that is the power we inherit today to ask that many things must and have to change in order to use the word equality.

We may not see these changes but we already wrote them without fear, against the patriarchy, the leadership, the societies and the time that trembles with them…