“Flowers” by Margaret Atwood.


Margaret Atwood

Right now I am the flower girl.
I bring fresh flowers, dump out the old ones, the greenish water
that smell like dirty teeth
into the bathroom sink, snip off the stem ends
with surgical scissors I borrowed from the nursing station,
put them in a jar
I brought from home, because they don’t have vases
in this hotel for the ill,
place them on the table beside my father
where he can’t se them
becuase he won’t open his eyes.

He lies flattened under the white sheet.
He says he is on a ship,
and I can see it-
the functional white walls, the minimal windows,
the little bells, the rubbery footsteps of strangers,
the whispering all around
of the air-conditioner, or else the ocean,
and he is on a ship;
he’s giving us up, giving up everything
but the breath going in
and out of his diminished body;
minute by minute he’s sailing slowly away,
away from us and our waving hands
that do not wave.

The women come in, two of them, in blue;
it’s no use being kind, in here, if you don’t have hands like theirs-
large and capable, the hands
of plump muscular angels,
the ones that blow trumpets and lift swords.
They shift him carefully, tuck in the corners.
It hurts, but as little as possible.
Pain is their lore. The rest of us
are helpless amateurs.

A suffering you can neither cure nor enter-
there are worse things, but not many.
After a while it makes us impatient.
Can’t we do anything but feel sorry?

I sit there, watching the flowers in their pickle jar. He is asleep, or not.
I think; He looks like a turtle.
Or: He looks erased.
But somewhere in there, at the far end of the tunnel
of pain and forgetting he’s trapped in
is the same father I knew before,
the one who carried the green canoe
over the portage, the painter trailing,
myself with the fishing rods, slipping on the wet boulders and slapping flies.
That was the last time we went there.

There will be a last time for this also,
bringing cut flowers to this white room.
Sooner or later I too
will have to give everything up,
even the sorrow that comes with these flowers,
even the anger,
even the memory of how I brought them
from a garden I will no longer have by then,
and put them beside my dying father,
hoping I could still save him.


2 thoughts on ““Flowers” by Margaret Atwood.

  1. Pingback: Life as a mature creative writing student | Cathy White

  2. Christiana says:

    Wonderful poem. As a nurse it resonates with my experience and as a daughter I remember the puzzlement of seeing a strong father at the end of life.

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