18) Poetry: The Moment

Margaret Atwood’s been my favourite author for a long time. She’s authored my all-time favourite book, and several of my top ten. Handmaid’s Tale for instance – it’s difficult to think of a more kick-ass feminist novel, or of a more terrifying & vivid world.

I love the way that she writes time – she slips in and out of tenses so easily, you’re in the present one moment, in a flashback the next, and in a hypothetical future the moment after. It should be jarring and confusing, but she makes it work. Her prose is lyrical; there’s a deliberacy and a weight to each word. It’s like a tapestry made of thousands and thousands of intricate threads; each of them perfectly placed and perfectly purposeful.

Imagine my joy when I found that she also wrote poetry.

The Moment

By Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

Is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper.
You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round.

The cover photo is from New York a couple years ago; taken from Central Park. I love this photo. I love how clear the water is, and how it creates an exact reflection of the city skyline. I love how it’s framed by leaves, and how it seems as though you’re looking at the city through a veil of nature. From across the water, the city looks so toy-like. It’s fragile, and impermanent.

As humans, we build and mine and destroy; we walk the earth thinking that we own it. I like this reminder – all this brick and mortar is just dressing. The earth, it’s not ours. It’s older than us by far, and it’ll outlast us all. We can abuse and damage and strip it of its natural resources (and, we do), but it’ll still be there. We’re the visitors. And the earth does not belong to us.

 

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