Margaret Atwood: Backdrop addresses cowboy

I’ve touched on Margaret Atwood’s excellent work in the past. From her amazing work in The Handmaid’s Tale to her excellent discussion of science fiction as a whole in In Other WorldsAtwood is consistently one of the best writers working today. She strikes an incredible balance between crafting amazingly readable stories and full-formed characters while interjecting some serious philosophical discussions about everything from the treatment of women in society to the ethics behind the bio-sciences.

Atwood brings that same sense of the world to her poetry; taking tried tropes and turning them on their head. That is certainly true with today’s National Poetry Month entry.

Backdrop addresses cowboy

Starspangled cowboy
sauntering out of the almost-
silly West, on your face
a porcelain grin,
tugging a papier-mâché cactus
on wheels behind you with a string,


you are innocent as a bathtub
full of bullets.


Your righteous eyes, your laconic
people the streets with villains:
as you move, the air in front of you
blossoms with targets


and you leave behind you a heroic
trail of desolation:
beer bottles
slaughtered by the side
of the road, bird-
skulls bleaching in the sunset.


I ought to be watching
from behind a cliff or a cardboard storefront
when the shooting starts, hands clasped
in admiration,
but I am elsewhere.


Then what about me


what about the I
confronting you on that border,
you are always trying to cross?


I am the horizon
you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso


I am also what surrounds you:
my brain
scattered with your
tincans, bones, empty shells,
the litter of your invasions.


I am the space you desecrate
as you pass through.


Interested in reading more Atwood? In addition to the two above mentioned books, be sure to check out the Maddadam trilogy. Each book in the series gets better and better and Atwood is a master at interweaving various time periods, characters, and plot points to create an entirely satisfying and thought provoking read.

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