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The Daily Poetry Movement

This poem is based upon a true story when men were practicing gendercide against women who dared to be independent or ask for equal rights. The poem is written by Margaret Atwood, who is, of course a professor. Margaret has a great deal of herstorical poems and scientific ones as well. Please, if you don't know about the Salem Witch Trials told from a feminine perspective do learn them. Women were committing suicide by the thousands in Europe to escape terrible "witch hunts." But some strong women never die! Resist! Refuse!
HALF-HANGED MARY

("Half-hanged Mary" was Mary Webster, who was accused of witchcraft in the 1680's in a Puritan town in Massachusetts and hanged from a tree - where, according to one of the several surviving accounts, she was left all night. It is known that when she was cut down she was still alive, since she lived for another fourteen years.)

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7pm

Rumour was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.

I didn't feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn't feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.

I was hanged for living alone
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;

Oh yes, and breasts,
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever there's talk of demons
these come in handy.


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8pm

The rope was an improvisation.
With time they'd have thought of axes.

Up I go like a windfall in reverse,
a blackend apple stuck back onto the tree.

Trussed hands, rag in my mouth,
a flag raised to salute the moon,

old bone-faced goddess, old original,
who once took blood in return for food.

The men of the town stalk homeward,
excited by their show of hate,

their own evil turned inside out like a glove,
and me wearing it.


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9pm

The bonnets come to stare,
the dark skirts also,
the upturned faces in between,
mouths closed so tight they're lipless.
I can see down into their eyeholes
and nostrils. I can see their fear.

You were my friend, you too.
I cured your baby, Mrs.,
and flushed yours out of you,
Non-wife, to save your life.

Help me down? You don't dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.

In a gathering like this one
the safe place is the background,
pretending you can't dance,
the safe stance pointing a finger.

I understand. You can't spare
anything, a hand, a piece of bread, a shawl
against the cold,
a good word. Lord
knows there isn't much
to go around. You need it all.


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10pm

Well God, now that I'm up here
with maybe some time to kill
away from the daily
fingerwork, legwork, work
at the hen level,
we can continue our quarrel,
the one about free will.

Is it my choice that I'm dangling
like a turkey's wattles from his
more then indifferent tree?
If Nature is Your alphabet,
what letter is this rope?

Does my twisting body spell out Grace?
I hurt, therefore I am.
Faith, Charity, and Hope
are three dead angels
falling like meteors or
burning owls across
the profound blank sky of Your face.


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12 midnight

My throat is taut against the rope
choking off words and air;
I'm reduced to knotted muscle.
Blood bulges in my skull,
my clenched teeth hold it in;
I bite down on despair

Death sits on my shoulder like a crow
waiting for my squeezed beet
of a heart to burst
so he can eat my eyes

or like a judge
muttering about sluts and punishment
and licking his lips

or like a dark angel
insidious in his glossy feathers
whispering to me to be easy
on myself. To breathe out finally.
Trust me, he says, caressing
me. Why suffer?

A temptation, to sink down
into these definitions.
To become a martyr in reverse,
or food, or trash.

To give up my own words for myself,
my own refusals.
To give up knowing.
To give up pain.
To let go.


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2am

Out of my mouth is comming, at some
distance from me, a thin gnawing sound
which you could confuse with prayer except that
praying is not constrained.

Or is it, Lord?
Maybe it's more like being strangled
than I once though. Maybe it's
a gasp for air, prayer.
Did those men at Pentecost
want flames to shoot out of their heads?
Did they ask to be tossed
on the ground, gabbling like holy poultry,
eyeballs bulging?

As mine are, as mine are.
There is only one prayer; it is not
the knees in the clean nightgown
on the hooked rug
I want this, I want that.
Oh far beyond.
Call it Please. Call it Mercy.
Call it Not yet, not yet,
as Heaven threatens to explode
inwards in fire and shredded flesh, and the angels caw.


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3am

wind seethes in the leaves around
me the tree exude night
birds night birds yell inside
my ears like stabbed hearts my heart
stutters in my fluttering cloth
body I dangle with strength
going out of me the wind seethes
in my body tattering
the words I clench
my fists hold No
talisman or silver disc my lungs
flail as if drowning I call
on you as witness I did
no crime I was born I have borne I
bear I will be born this is
a crime I will not
acknowledge leaves and wind
hold onto me
I will not give in


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6am

Sun comes up, huge and blaring,
no longer a simile for God.
Wrong address. I've been out there.

Time is relative, let me tell you
I have lived a millennium.

I would like to say my hair turned white
overnight, but it didn't.
Instead it was my heart:
bleached out like meat in water.

Also, I'm about three inches taller.
This is what happens when you drift in space
listening to the gospel
of the red-hot stars.
Pinpoints of infinity riddle my brain,
a revelation of deafness.

At the end of my rope
I testify to silence.
Don't say I'm not grateful.

Most will have only one death.
I will have two.


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8am

When they came to harvest my corpse
(open your mouth, close your eyes)
cut my body from the rope,

surprise, surprise:
I was still alive.

Tough luck, folks,
I know the law:
you can't execute me twice
for the same thing. How nice.

I fell to the clover, breathed it in,
and bared my teeth at them
in a filthy grin.
You can imagine how that went over.

Now I only need to look
out at them through my sky-blue eyes.
They see their own ill will
staring then in the forehead
and turn tail

Before, I was not a witch.
But now I am one.


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Later

My body of skin waxes and wanes
around my true body,
a tender nimbus.
I skitter over the paths and fields
mumbling to myself like crazy,
mouth full of juicy adjectives
and purple berries.
The townsfolk dive headfirst into the bushes
to get out of my way.

My first death orbits my head,
an ambiguous nimbus,
medallion of my ordeal.
No one crosses that circle.

Having been hanged for something
I never said,
I can now say anything I can say.

Holiness gleams on my dirty fingers,
I eat flowers and dung,
two forms of the same thing, I eat mice
and give thanks, blasphemies
gleam and burst in my wake
like lovely bubbles.
I speak in tongues,
my audience is owls.

My audience is God,
because who the hell else could understand me?
Who else has been dead twice?

The words boil out of me,
coil after coil of sinuous possibility.
The cosmos unravels from my mouth,
all fullness, all vacancy.

~Margaret Atwood~


 http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Parc/8808/garden/mary.html

Maggie 04.Jan.2004 13:44

Bill

Atwood is a full-time writer.

 http://www.writersunion.ca/a/atwood.htm
 http://www.poets.ca/linktext/direct/atwood.htm

Her own official web-site :  http://www.owtoad.com/

I did not see her latest novel listed : Oryx and Crake

Much of Atwood's poetry is opaque or distant to me. Yet, pieces like 'Half-hanged Mary' appeal to me deeply. Maggie engages personally, it seems to me, with people like Mary.

You might find satisfying a few hours spent exploring the edition of 'The Journals of Susanna Moodie' illustrated (such an anemic word) by Charles Pachter.


The Daily Poetry Movement is a good thing, Bird. You are choosing well.

Thank you, Bill 05.Jan.2004 00:28

Migratory Bird

Thank you, Bill. I really appreciated the positive feed back as well as the links. You are technically more correct than I was. She does guest teaching at colleges but she does not hold a full time position preferring to have the freedom of writing full time. I saw many books of hers that I had not read. I look forward to reading them. Bill, you are wonderful to have added this knowledge and I do think I appreciate you all the more for updating me on one of my favorite authors. To think I had thought I had read everything by her!

I also adore your description of her as "opaque." It is an apt term. I do hope you will continue to read the poetry movement and continue to contribute to it, Bill.


Resist! Recycle! Refuse!

Your information 10.Oct.2007 18:40

Casey sheffield Absolutekraze@gmail.com

the introduction to this article is incorrect, or at the least mis-leading. Men were not "Committing genocide against women" who owned land or did not conform. In fact, this was an extension of the Salem Witch Trials. Mary was hung for Witchcraft in a puritan town in the 1860's. This is a very big difference. Had men been committing genocide against women, their aim would have been to completely eliminate the female race. This is not what happened.

Just thought that you might like to know. For reference, I have attached my (unfinished) English essay, which was actually the reason I found this site.
~Casey