cryptic from the cave

Standard

Another Visit to the Oracle
Margaret Atwood
1) Another visit to the oracle
There’s so much I could tell you
if I felt like it. Which I do less and less.
I used to verbalize a mile a minute,
but I’ve had to give it up. It’s
too hard to turn the calories into words,
as you’ll find out too if you live
long enough. If you live as long as me.
So I’ve had to edit. I’ve taken up
aphorism. Cryptic, they say.
Soon I’ll get everything down to one word.
All crammed up in there, very
condensed you understand, like an
extremely small black star. Like a black
hole. Like a dense potential. Like the letter A.
You see what I mean about cryptic.
I could go on like this for hours. Weeks months
years centuries millennia. Could and did.
It was my vocation, after all. My
fate. That, and the lack of accurate
translation. Want to know your future?
But you’d rather have a happy story any
day. Or so you say.
2) Prophecy
The future will be both better than the past
and worse.
What future?
Your future,
which is implied in many futures.
What past?
Your past,
which is touched by many pasts.
Both your future and your past are in your head,
because where else could they be?
And your head is in the present, since
by the time you hear this, “your head” –
the one I just mentioned –
is already in the past,
which doesn’t exist, except
in your head as I’m telling you this.
Prophecy is therefore easy.
All I have to do
is be present in my head,
which contains your head.
I can walk around in there
as if in a cave,
a well-lit cave.
I can look at any feature.
This is one method.
It only seems like magic.
3) They used to ask me…
They used to ask me all kinds of questions:
Will I get a good husband
Will I be rich
Will the baby recover
and so on.
Now it’s only the one thing:
Is there no hope?
They ask that over and over.
Though the sky is as blue as ever
the flowers as flowery,
they stand there slack-mouthed
arms hanging useless
as if the earth is about to crumble,
as if there is no safe refuge.
Of course, I say.
I hate to disappoint.
Of course there’s hope.
It’s over there in that well.
There’s an endless supply.
Bend over the rim, you’ll see.
Down there.
It looks like silver.
It looks like you
with the sun behind your head
as if your brain is burning.
The face dark and without features.
But that’s a trick of the light.
That’s hope.
It’s in the future tense.
Don’t be deceived.
4) Don’t be deceived…
Don’t be deceived.
What a thing to say.
As if there’s no conspiracy.
Relax, the lightbulbs are singing.
It will soon be all right,
hum the wires.
You’d think it was spring,
so many tunes on the loose
bursting with love, and all of it
mechanical.
Deception is the air we breathe,
we couldn’t live without it.
Don’t you want things nice?
Don’t you want to have fun?
Don’t you want your dinner?
Clap your hands and wish very hard.
That’s what we’re eating:
Wish food.
5) Wish food
Wish food lies on the plate.
It twitches. It’s still alive.
You wouldn’t want a dead wish.
Those go bad very fast.
But if wishes were fishes
we’d soon be out of luck.
Eat, eat, the body says:
Here comes starvation
blowing towards you like a dry wind.
Nobody has a plan.
You’ll need that fat,
all those fat wishes,
those fat dreams you ate.
Start working on your burrow,
the one you’ll crawl into
so you can hibernate.
Call upon your inner bear,
it’s in there.
6) Why should I tell you anything true?
I)
Why should I tell you anything true?
Why should I tell you anything?
You’re not paying me.
I don’t do this for money.
Hold out your hand,
Your empty hand.
I see.
If I told you what you hold
in the lines in your hand
which as I said is empty,
is full of emptiness,
you’d be annoyed. Oh surely
not, you’d say. You’re far too
dismal. Too severe.
I’m doing this to help you.
What would you prefer?
You’d like me to amuse you?
Do some jigs, or pranks?
I lack the airiness,
I lack the feathers.
That’s not what I do.
What I do: I see
in darkness. I see
darkness. I see you.
II)
I see you,
in darkness, walking.
I see your hurrying feet.
This is where you’ll be
at the end of all the sunsets,
all the banquets.
Behind you there’s a tunnel
with a life in it.
Your former life,
your life of silks and gardens.
Colours flickering.
The city is in flames,
it’s as I said:
time to get out
with what you’re carrying.
Forget the jewellery,
forget the lovers you once had.
Don’t hesitate.
You can find other bangles.
Ahead of you there’s what?
Is it a river?
The water slides like oil,
soundless and without fish.
A mute beach.
This is where I’m handy:
I’ve been here
in some form or another.
I’ll help you to the edge,
I’ll see you over.
I know who to bribe.
Don’t be afraid.
III)
Don’t be afraid.
A boat will be provided.
After the boat has foundered,
after you’ve reached the shore
despite the foundering boat,
after you’ve met whoever’s waiting,
who loves you (possibly),
after you’ve entered
the part that I can’t see,
I’ll tell your story –
Your story that was once so graceful
but now is dark.
That’s what I do:
I tell dark stories
before and after they come true.

Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

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