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By Margaret Atwood

Starspangled cowboy

sauntering out of the almost-

silly West, on your face

a porcelain grin,

tugging a papier-mâché cactus

on wheels behind you with a string,


you are innocent as a bathtub

full of bullets.


Your righteous eyes, your laconic

trigger-fingers

people the streets with villains:

as you move, the air in front of you

blossoms with targets


and you leave behind you a heroic

trail of desolation:

beer bottles

slaughtered by the side

of the road, bird-

skulls bleaching in the sunset.


I ought to be watching

from behind a cliff or a cardboard storefront

when the shooting starts, hands clasped

in admiration,

but I am elsewhere.


Then what about me


what about the I

confronting you on that border,

you are always trying to cross?


I am the horizon

you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso


I am also what surrounds you:

my brain

scattered with your

tincans, bones, empty shells,

the litter of your invasions.


I am the space you desecrate

as you pass through.


Margaret Atwood, “Backdrop addresses cowboy” from Selected Poems 1965-1975. Copyright © 1974, 1976 by Margaret Atwood. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976)

  • Nature
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Margaret Atwood
Born in Ottawa, Canada, Margaret Atwood is one of the most prominent literary figures of her country. She has published prolifically in several genres, including over 10 novels, six collections of stories, and 15 books of poetry. The recipient of numerous awards, Atwood wrote Morning in the Burned House, published in 1995, which was a co-winner of the Trillium Award. See More By This Poet

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