Tuesday Poem: Morning in the Burned House, Margaret Atwood

A Fire Place

Here is the place where the lightning fire one time
almost got us.  Where the heroic youngish
(now dead) men in their chequered flannel
shirts with the sleeves rolled up and their high-laced
lumberjacks' (obsolete) boots once fought it
with hand-pumps and axes to a damp and acrid
standstill.  Where the charred trunks lay smouldering.
The whole thing a gash (they said) in the forest.  A scar.
Where then poplar seeped in and over, feeding on ashes, and (purple)
fireweed, and (blue) berries, and the bears, and us
with our lard pails and tin cups, our jelly
sandwiches at lunchtime, skinning our knees on the sooty
rocks, smudging our hands
and mouths with black and blue, in our summer clothing (since
torn into dustcloths, thrown out and rotted away).
Now that bright random clearing
or burn, or meadow if you like, is gone
also, and there's scrubland, a light-green
sticky new forest.  Earth does such things
to itself: furrowing, cracking apart, bursting
into flame.  It rips openings in itself, which it struggles
(or not) to skin over.  The moon
doesn't care about its own
craters and bruises.  Only we can regret
the perishing of the burned place.
Only we could call it a wound.

Copyright Margaret Atwood
Morning in the Burned House, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995

This is my favourite collection from Margaret Atwood.  It's elegiac, thoughtful and profound. It contains a long sequence for her dying father, in which she addresses the past and her own 'fall into the future' of old age and eventual death. One review identifies a 'vein of grieving that moves through this book like a dark tracer'.  The grief is not only for the poet's father. There is, also, in this book an awareness of the losses suffered in the natural world - Margaret Atwood, like many Canadians,  is a committed environmentalist. 


Most people know Margaret Atwood only as a best-selling novelist, but she is a wonderful poet with eleven collections published - all of them amazing.








I've recently been reading the Canadian crime series of Inspector Gamache novels by Louise Penny.  In them she puts Atwood's words (with permission) into the mouth of a crazy, politically incorrect, embittered old poet called Ruth Zardo who has a pet duck and drinks other people's whisky. It was quite strange finding the poems from Morning in the Burned House in this context.  Astonishing!  Who knows? Perhaps we'll find Val McDermid quoting Carol Anne Duffy in some of hers?

Morning in the Burned House







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