Flowers

Original Text: 

Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995): 93-95. PS8501 .T8 M67 1995 Robarts Library

1Right now I am the flower girl.
2I bring fresh flowers,
3dump out the old ones, the greenish water
4that smells like dirty teeth
5into the bathroom sink, snip off the stem ends
6with surgical scissors I borrowed
7from the nursing station,
8put them into a jar
9I brought from home, because they don't have vases
10in this hotel for the ill,
11place them on the table beside my father
12where he can't see them
13because he won't open his eyes.
14He lies flattened under the white sheet.
15He says he is on a ship,
16and I can see it --
17the functional white walls, the minimal windows,
18the little bells, the rubbery footsteps of strangers,
19the whispering all around
20of the air-conditioner, or else the ocean,
21and he is on a ship;
22he's giving us up, giving up everything
23but the breath going in
24and out of his diminished body;
25minute by minute he's sailing slowly away,
26away from us and our waving hands
27that do not wave.
28The women come in, two of them, in blue;
29it's no use being kind, in here,
30if you don't have hands like theirs --
31large and capable, the hands
32of plump muscular angels,
33the ones that blow trumpets and lift swords.
34They shift him carefully, tuck in the corners.
35It hurts, but as little as possible.
36Pain is their lore. The rest of us
37are helpless amateurs.
38A suffering you can neither cure nor enter --
39there are worse things, but not many.
40After a while it makes us impatient.
41Can we do anything but feel sorry?
42I sit there, watching the flowers
43in their pickle jar. He is asleep, or not.
44I think: He looks like a turtle.
45Or: He looks erased.
46But somewhere in there, at the far end of the tunnel
47of pain and forgetting he's trapped in
48is the same father I knew before,
49the one who carried the green canoe
50over the portage, the painter trailing,
51myself with the fishing rods, slipping
52on the wet boulders and slapping flies.
53That was the last time we went there.
54There will be a last time for this also,
55bringing cut flowers to this white room.
56Sooner or later I too
57will have to give everything up,
58even the sorrow that comes with these flowers,
59even the anger,
60even the memory of how I brought them
61from a garden I will no longer have by then,
62and put them beside my dying father,
63hoping I could still save him.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2009
Special Copyright: 

"Flowers" (c) Margaret Atwood. Printed gratis, and specifically for Representative Poetry Online, with permission of the author. As published in Morning in the Burned House (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995). Any other use, including reproduction for any purposes, educational or otherwise, will require explicit written permission from Margaret Atwood.