By Margaret Atwood
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
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:
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
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:
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)
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.
More By This Poet
The animals in that country
In that country the animals
have the faces of people:
cats possessing the streets
the fox run
politely to earth, the huntsmen
standing around him, fixed
in their tapestry of manners
the bull, embroidered
with blood and given
an elegant death, trumpets, his name
stamped on him, heraldic brand
They are hostile nations
In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears
the sea clogging, the air
we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other
Instead we are opposite, we
touch as though attacking,
the gifts we bring
even in good faith...
More Poems about Nature
What Women Are Made Of
We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;
we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root
and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
Of Tribulation, these are They,
Denoted by the White.
— Emily Dickinson
in the split geode
a Santa’s grotto
every surface —
like sea urchins’ —
in the doorways
sleepers from the womb
to make of anything succulent
More Poems about Social Commentaries
Vagrants and Loiterers
You got that clean waistcoat,
the bright white of a well-tailored
shirt, you got those loose-as-sacks
slacks and some spit-polished shoes,
and you know, whether you are looking
like money, or about to take a stroll,
to tilt that hat like you own
the world; yeah, smoke...
Back Up Quick They’re Hippies
That was the year we drove
into the commune in Cornwall.
“Jesus Jim,” mam said,
“back up quick they’re hippies.”
Through the car window,
tents, row after row, flaps open,
long-haired men and women
curled around each other like babies
and the babies themselves
wandered naked across the grass.