More Medusa by Carol Ann Duffy
A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy
grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes
as though my thoughts
hissed and spat on my scalp.
My bride’s breath soured, stank
in the grey bags of my lungs.
I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,
There are bullet tears in my eyes.
Are you terrified?
It’s you I love,
perfect man, Greek God, my own;
but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray
So better by for me if you were stone.
Duffy's Medusa begins her monologue acknowledging that thoughts are alive. They grow, they mutate and take on shapes that reassemble outside the privacy of the mind and become externalised embodiments of feeling. Thus we hear Medusa charting the progress of her destructive reflections. There is a bitter irony around the qualification 'as though' for her thoughts have become snakes crawling all over her head and such companions render her estranged from any companionship at all. She has become the embodiment of the phallic, abject woman. It is striking that Medusa herself finds her appearance replusive and this self loathing invites pathos and offers an interiority and power to her perspective.
The intimacy of the word 'scalp' reveals the proximity of Medusa to that which she too finds disgusting, she has been violated by a supernatural punishment for her sexual passion and the reader may find the connotations of this word too near for comfort?
Like Havisham in Duffy's earlier collection Mean Time, the aridity of Medusa's relationships exile her from the risk of the new, and inflict a ruinous effect upon her physicality. Her previous beauty degenerates into rank repulsiveness and her very voice becomes a source of disgust. How can she speak to anyone any more when her very breath is foul? Her rejection has become pathologised. She has become so defensive that there can be no possibility of any further intimacy-ever.
The only emotion Medusa now expects to engender is literal petrification. She is monstruous even unto her own self and knows that her 'perfect man' will either turn to stone himself as he gazes upon her form or she will herself suffer the indignity of being ignored. Cleverly Carol Ann Duffy uses the famous predicament of Medusa to explore an emotional dichotomy. If we look too long and too closely at our beloved do we inevitably find ourselves 'lost' in the stony coldness of disappointment and betrayal? The gaze of the lover upon the beloved in the story of Medusa leads to literal and metaphorical petrification and unsurprisingly is suggestive of male fears around castration. 'Looking' implies dangerous connection and invites petrification and death. If we look 'away' then we preserve our autonomy, but fail in our desire for connection and intimacy. So should we, like the resourceful Perseus protect ourselves through a form of detachment, and carry a mirror to look at our beloved through thus maintaining a 'healthy' distance?!