A tree hulks in the living-
room, prickly monster, our hostage
from the wilderness, prelude
to light in this dark space of the year
which turns again toward the sun
today, or at least we hope so.
Outside, a dead tree
swarming with blue and yellow
birds; inside, a living one
that shimmers with hollow silver
planets and wafer faces,
salt and flour, with pearl
teeth, tin angels, a knitted bear.
This is our altar.
Beyond the white hill which maroons us,
out of sight of the white
eye of the pond, geography
is crumbling, the nation
splits like an iceberg, factions
shouting Good riddance from the floes
as they all melt south,
with politics the usual
All politicians are amateurs:
wars bloom in their heads like flowers
on wallpaper, pins strut on their maps.
Power is wine with lunch
and the right pinstripes.
There are no amateur soldiers.
The soldiers grease their holsters,
strap on everything
they need to strap, gobble their dinners.
They travel quickly and light.
The fighting will be local, they know,
Their eyes flick from target
to target: window, belly, child.
The goal is not to get killed.
As for the women, who did not
want to be involved, they are involved.
It's that blood on the snow
which turns out to be not
some bludgeoned or machine-gunned
animal's, but your own
that does it.
Each has a knitting needle
stuck in her abdomen, a red pincushion
heart complete with pins,
a numbed body
with one more entrance than the world finds safe,
and not much money.
Each fears her children sprout
from the killed children of others.
Each is right.
Each has a father.
Each has a mad mother
and a necklace of light blue tears.
Each has a mirror
which when asked replies Not you.
My daughter crackles paper, blows
on the tree to make it live, festoons
herself with silver.
So far she has no use
What can I give her,
what armor, invincible
sword or magic trick, when that year comes?
How can I teach her some way of being human
that won't destroy her?
I would like to tell her. Love
is enough, I would like to say,
Find shelter in another skin.
I would like to say, Dance
and be happy. Instead I will say
in my crone's voice, Be
ruthless when you have to, tell
the truth when you can, when you can see it.
Iron talismans, and ugly, but
more loyal than mirrors.
Atwood, Margaret. Selected Poems II : 1976 - 1986. United States, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.
Why I chose this poem
My life has turned more toward the sun than when I fell in love with this poem, or at least I would like to hope so. It's only in the last year that I've learned to feel safe in my body. When I did not, I collected so many brutal and beautiful acknowledgements of my experience. Poems like these gave me hope.