“Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.


Margaret Atwood, “Siren Song” from Selected Poems 1965-1975. Copyright © 1974, 1976 by Margaret Atwood.

Source: Poetry (February 1974).

“Dancing” by Margaret Atwood

It was my father taught my mother
how to dance.
I never knew that.
I thought it was the other way.
Ballroom was their style,
a graceful twirling,
curved arms and fancy footwork,
a green-eyed radio.

There is always more than you know.
There are always boxes
put away in the cellar,
worn shoes and cherished pictures,
notes you find later,
sheet music you can’t play.

A woman came on Wednesdays
with tapes of waltzes.
She tried to make him shuffle
around the floor with her.
She said it would be good for him.
He didn’t want to.

“Dancing” by Margaret Atwood from Morning in the Burned House. © Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

“Water does not resist. Water flows… (Atwood)

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

“Variation On The Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and as you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

~ Margaret Atwood

❝ This is the cemetery. The good bones are in here, the bad bones are out there…

❝This is the cemetery. The good bones are in here, the bad bones are out there, beyond the church wall, beyond the pale, unsanctified.

The bad bones behaved badly, perhaps because of bad blood, bad luck, bad childhoods. Anyway, they did not treat their bodies well. Walked them over cliff edges, jumped them off bell-towers. Tried to fly. Broke things.

The good bones lie snug under their tidy monuments. They have been given brooches to wear, signet rings, poems carved on stone, marble urns, citations. Circlets of bright hair. They have been worthy and dutiful, they deserve it. That’s what it says here: the last word.

The bad bones have been bad, so they are better left unsaid. They are better left unsaying. But they were never happy, they always wanted more, they were always hungry. They can smell the words, the words coming out of your mouth all warm and yeasty. They want some words of their own. They’ll be back.

[. . .]

You can wipe your feet on me, twist my motives around all you like, you can dump millstones on my head and drown me in the river, but you can’t get me out of the story. I’m the plot, babe, and don’t ever forget it.

—   Good Bones, Margaret Atwood