Girl Without Hands

By Margaret Atwood

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.

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