“She came whizzing down the stairs, thrown like a dart. She was stark naked. Her hair had been chopped off, her head was turned from back to front, she was missing some toes and she’d been tattooed all over her body with purple ink in a scrollwork design. She hit the potted azalea, trembled there for a moment like a botched angel, and fell.
“He said, I guess we’re safe.”
– Margaret Atwood, excerpt from “The Female Body”, Burroway 246
This passage appealed to me because I felt that I could relate easily, not necessarily to the scene or the doll described, but to the imaginary girl, thrower of the doll, who one can draw a mental picture of just through her observed actions. I can hear the sound of the doll flying through the air with the force of the throw. I can see the doll’s physical condition, so reminiscent of the Barbies that my sisters and I played with, a result of experimentation. I can imagine the exact pattern of the scrollwork, and see the way that the purple ink would smear at the edges, because the imagery of this passage plays off of the familiarity that many readers will have with the qualities of this doll. This kind of doll has slippery plastic skin that the ink won’t quite cling to, hair punched into the skull in odd ridge lines that become even odder mohawks once cut short. I can also feel the parents’ surprised responses to the actions that are so different from each of their expectations of the situation, even before the text reaches the father’s wry response.
The result of this passage is that I find myself cheering wildly for the girl hidden behind the imaginary curtain. The description paints the actions of a girl who is expected to follow one of two stereotypical responses to the doll, and she instead chooses to respond the way that little girls are more likely to actually do. She experiments with the doll, figures out what the materials of it will and won’t do, then discards it without a second thought, annoyed with her parents for giving her a toy that has such little value.
These images create an abstract idea around expectations of women, even as young girls, and the contrast with the reality. The little girl throws the doll “like a dart,” a weapon of protest against expectations. The doll “hit the potted azalea” – maybe a metaphor about trying to train or capture nature, or maybe another reference to societal expectations and norms – and then “trembled there for a moment like a botched angel” – referencing angels as a standard for perfection amongst both dolls and women, and the contrast of this standard with reality. The result of the passage is skeptical optimism – that the expectations on women are ridiculous, but that there is freedom in the ignorance of youth to these concepts that could hold hope for the future being different.
“(ii) Malcolm pulls Obama’s coat
there is no doubt
in my mind that they will come for you
dozens at a time
miniature fighter planes built
for such an idealism as yours
they are amazing fish
fanning their steel gills
like razors their fins peeling back
formations neat and orderly as a school
barreling toward the abdomen
heart spleen kidney anywhere
there is light”
– Roger Bonair-Agard, excerpt from “American History looks for light – a prayer for the survival of Barack Obama”, Burroway 40
I knew Roger Bonair-Agard a long time ago, when we were both involved with poetry slam at the national level. If you ever have the chance to see him perform, please do! He is an incredible spoken word artist.
The descriptions in this piece that I felt strongly drawn to created metaphoric illustrations of bullets as other things. “Miniature fighter planes” draws a squadron of bullets in flight, focused on their objective to kill. “Amazing fish…formations neat and orderly as a school” paints that same formation in progression, as the bullets move this way and that, and begin their individual explosions into shards of deadly steel shrapnel. It is interesting that he does not use sound as a descriptor here, given that gunshots have a very distinctive sound – so the absence of the use of sound may be deliberate, to create a silent movie of the devastation about to come.
These descriptions help create an understanding for me of the magnitude of the fear that Bonair-Agard has for the President’s safety. These are not single bullets, but bullets in large groups, inescapable quantities. He does not envision a single assassin with a single shot, but many bullets from multiple assassins (referenced indirectly through the title of this section of the poem, “Malcolm” likely referring to the assassination of Malcolm X by a group of assassins).
Bonair-Agard also uses these descriptions to build metaphors for how he views the President. “Built for an idealism such as yours” calls to mind the romanticized notion of fighter pilots from previous wars willing to die for their country at all costs on both sides of any given war. “Barreling toward the abdomen heart spleen kidney anywhere there is light” uses the metaphor of the school of fish flashing and turning towards the light of the sun to describe the flashing of the bullets toward the light of the President’s idealistic beliefs. The result of the passage is that it creates a series of memorable visual images pointing to the fear of the death of the President and his ideals.