Atwood’s poem “Manet’s Olympia” was originally published in the Winter 93-94 edition of Ploughshares. Reprinted here with no one’s permission. We just like the poem.
She reclines, more or less.
Try that posture, it’s hardly languor.
Her right arm sharp angles.
With her left she conceals her ambush.
Shoes but not stockings,
how sinister. The flower
behind her ear is naturally
not real, of a piece
with the sofa’s drapery.
The windows (if any) are shut.
This is indoor sin.
Above the head of the (clothed) maid
is an invisible voice balloon: Slut.
But. Consider the body,
unfragile, defiant, the pale nipples
staring you right in the bull’s-eye.
Consider also the black ribbon
around the neck. What’s under it?
A fine red threadline, where the head
was taken off and glued back on.
The body’s on offer,
but the neck’s as far as it goes.
This is no morsel.
Put clothes on her and you’d have a schoolteacher,
the kind with the brittle whiphand.
There’s someone else in this room.
You, Monsieur Voyeur.
As for that object of yours
she’s seen those before, and better.
I, the head, am the only subject
of this picture.
You, Sir, are furniture.