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Morning in the Burned House Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood
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Morning in the Burned House Quotes Showing 1-30 of 36
“The truth is seldom welcome, especially at dinner.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
tags: truth
“Red Fox

The red fox crosses the ice
intent on none of my business.
It's winter and slim pickings.

I stand in the bushy cemetery,
pretending to watch birds,
but really watching the fox
who could care less.
She pauses on the sheer glare
of the pond. She knows I'm there,
sniffs me in the wind at her shoulder.
If I had a gun or dog
or a raw heart, she'd smell it.
She didn't get this smart for nothing.

She's a lean vixen: I can see
the ribs, the sly
trickster's eyes, filled with longing
and desperation, the skinny
feet, adept at lies.

Why encourage the notion
of virtuous poverty?

It's only an excuse
for zero charity.
Hunger corrupts, and absolute hunger
corrupts absolutely,
or almost. Of course there are mothers,
squeezing their breasts
dry, pawning their bodies,
shedding teeth for their children,
or that's our fond belief.
But remember - Hansel
and Gretel were dumped in the forest
because their parents were starving.
Sauve qui peut. To survive
we'd all turn thief

and rascal, or so says the fox,
with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile,
who knows just where she's going:

to steal something
that doesn't belong to her -
some chicken, or one more chance,
or other life.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Strange how we decorate pain.
These ribbons, for instance,
and the small hard teardrops of blood.
Who are they for?
Do we think the dead care?”
margaret atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Messy love is better than none,
I guess. I am no authority
on sane living.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
tags: love
“The Loneliness of the Military Historian

Confess: it's my profession
that alarms you.
This is why few people ask me to dinner,
though Lord knows I don't go out of my way to be scary.
I wear dresses of sensible cut
and unalarming shades of beige,
I smell of lavender and go to the hairdresser's:
no prophetess mane of mine,
complete with snakes, will frighten the youngsters.
If I roll my eyes and mutter,
if I clutch at my heart and scream in horror
like a third-rate actress chewing up a mad scene,
I do it in private and nobody sees
but the bathroom mirror.

In general I might agree with you:
women should not contemplate war,
should not weigh tactics impartially,
or evade the word enemy,
or view both sides and denounce nothing.
Women should march for peace,
or hand out white feathers to arouse bravery,
spit themselves on bayonets
to protect their babies,
whose skulls will be split anyway,
or,having been raped repeatedly,
hang themselves with their own hair.
There are the functions that inspire general comfort.
That, and the knitting of socks for the troops
and a sort of moral cheerleading.
Also: mourning the dead.
Sons,lovers and so forth.
All the killed children.

Instead of this, I tell
what I hope will pass as truth.
A blunt thing, not lovely.
The truth is seldom welcome,
especially at dinner,
though I am good at what I do.
My trade is courage and atrocities.
I look at them and do not condemn.
I write things down the way they happened,
as near as can be remembered.
I don't ask why, because it is mostly the same.
Wars happen because the ones who start them
think they can win.

In my dreams there is glamour.
The Vikings leave their fields
each year for a few months of killing and plunder,
much as the boys go hunting.
In real life they were farmers.
The come back loaded with splendour.
The Arabs ride against Crusaders
with scimitars that could sever
silk in the air.
A swift cut to the horse's neck
and a hunk of armour crashes down
like a tower. Fire against metal.
A poet might say: romance against banality.
When awake, I know better.

Despite the propaganda, there are no monsters,
or none that could be finally buried.
Finish one off, and circumstances
and the radio create another.
Believe me: whole armies have prayed fervently
to God all night and meant it,
and been slaughtered anyway.
Brutality wins frequently,
and large outcomes have turned on the invention
of a mechanical device, viz. radar.
True, valour sometimes counts for something,
as at Thermopylae. Sometimes being right -
though ultimate virtue, by agreed tradition,
is decided by the winner.
Sometimes men throw themselves on grenades
and burst like paper bags of guts
to save their comrades.
I can admire that.
But rats and cholera have won many wars.
Those, and potatoes,
or the absence of them.
It's no use pinning all those medals
across the chests of the dead.
Impressive, but I know too much.
Grand exploits merely depress me.

In the interests of research
I have walked on many battlefields
that once were liquid with pulped
men's bodies and spangled with exploded
shells and splayed bone.
All of them have been green again
by the time I got there.
Each has inspired a few good quotes in its day.
Sad marble angels brood like hens
over the grassy nests where nothing hatches.
(The angels could just as well be described as vulgar
or pitiless, depending on camera angle.)
The word glory figures a lot on gateways.
Of course I pick a flower or two
from each, and press it in the hotel Bible
for a souvenir.
I'm just as human as you.

But it's no use asking me for a final statement.
As I say, I deal in tactics.
Also statistics:
for every year of peace there have been four hundred
years of war.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing

The world is full of women
who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worst suspicions:
that everything's for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshipers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can't. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.

Speaking of which, it's the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretense
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slam of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meaning are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper:
My mothers was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look - my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Wars happen because the ones who start them think they can win.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
tags: war
“but nothing I ever gave was good for you;
it was like white bread to goldfish.
they cram and cram, and it kills them,
and they drift in the pool, belly-up,
making stunned faces
and playing on our guilt
as if their own toxic gluttony
was not their own fault

there you are, still outside the window,
still with your hands out, still
pallid and fish-eyed, still acting
stupidly innocent and starved.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Girl Without Hands

Walking through the ruins
on your way to work
that do not look like ruins
with the sunlight pouring over
the seen world
like hail or melted
silver, that bright
and magnificent, each leaf
and stone quickened and specific in it,
and you can't hold it,
you can't hold any of it. Distance surrounds you,
marked out by the ends of your arms
when they are stretched to their fullest.
You can go no farther than this,
you think, walking forward,
pushing the distance in front of you
like a metal cart on wheels
with its barriers and horizontals.
Appearance melts away from you,
the offices and pyramids
on the horizon shimmer and cease.
No one can enter that circle
you have made, that clean circle
of dead space you have made
and stay inside,
mourning because it is clean.

Then there's the girl, in the white dress,
meaning purity, or the failure
to be any colour. She has no hands, it's true.
The scream that happened to the air
when they were taken off
surrounds her now like an aureole
of hot sand, of no sound.
Everything has bled out of her.

Only a girl like this
can know what's happened to you.
If she were here she would
reach out her arms towards
you now, and touch you
with her absent hands
and you would feel nothing, but you would be
touched all the same.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“In the daylight we know
what’s gone is gone,
but at night it’s different.
Nothing gets finished,
not dying, not mourning;”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“But it's love that does us in.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
tags: love
“My audience is God,
because who the hell else could understand me?”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“No one
ever told you greed and hunger
are not the same.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Up


You wake up filled with dread

There seems no reason for it.

Morning light sifts through the window,

there is birdsong,

you can’t get out of bed.



It’s something about the crumpled sheets

hanging over the edge like jungle

foliage, the terry slippers gaping

their dark pink mouths for your feet,

the unseen breakfast–some of it

in the refrigerator you do not dare

to open–you do not dare to eat.



What prevents you? The future. The future tense,

immense as outer space.

You could get lost there.

No. Nothing so simple. The past, its destiny

and drowned events pressing you down,

like sea water, like gelatin

filling your lungs instead of air.



Forget all that and let’s get up.

Try moving your arm.

Try moving your head.

Pretend the house is on fire

and you must run or burn.

No, that one’s useless.

It’s never worked before.



Where is it coming from, this echo,

this huge No that surrounds you,

silent as the folds of the yellow

curtains, mute as the cheerful



Mexican bowl with its cargo

or mummified flowers?

(You chose the colours of the sun,

not the dried neutrals of shadow.

God knows you’ve tried.)

Now here’s a good one:

you’re lying on your deathbed.

You have one hour to live.

Who is it, exactly, you have needed

all these years to forgive?”
Margaret Atwood , Morning in the Burned House
“Messy love is better than none,
I guess. I'm no authority
on sane living.

Which is all true
and no hep at all, because
this form of love is like the pain
of childbirth: so intense
it's hard to remember afterwards,
or what kind of screams and grimaces
it pushed you into.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“This form of love is like the pain
of childbirth: so intense
it's hard to remember afterwards,”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“In the east a bank of cloud rises up silently like dark bread.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“They were wrong about the sun.
It does not go down into
the underworld at night.
The sun leaves merely
and the underworld emerges.
It can happen at any moment.

It can happen in the morning,
you in the kitchen going through
your mild routines.
Plate, cup, knife.
All at once there’s no blue, no green,
no warning.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“left lipstick imprints the shape of grateful, rubbery sighs...”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Translation was never possible. Instead there was always only conquest, the influx of the language of hard nouns, the language of metal, the language of either/or, the one language that has eaten all the others.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand? There is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
tags: poetry
“It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“I wonder
if I should let my hair go grey
so my advice will be better.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Messy love is better than none.
I guess. I'm no authority
on sane living.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“I would like to say my hair turned white
overnight, but it didn’t.
Instead it was my heart:
bleached out like meat in water”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“from under the ground, from under the waters,
they clutch at us, they clutch at us,
we won’t let go.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Dear Sir, I reply, I never had any.
Bad sex, that is.
It was never the sex, it was the other things,
the absence of flowers, the death threats,
the eating habits at breakfast.
I notice I’m using the past tense.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House
“Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,”
Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House

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