the other way around

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 Moment by Margaret Atwood


6 thoughts on “the other way around

  1. There is deep sadness in this for me, in view of the oil spill in the Gulf – as well as a heart opening: “You were a visitor…You own nothing…” Ah – deep breath of Silence…
    Thank you…

  2. Thanks so much for this poem.

    Francis of Assisi said: “Great wisdom will come as you meditate on this…We own nothing”.

    Here’s an excerpt from my post of May 22 “Tombstones and Airplanes”, written after a funeral:

    “As six men struggled up the slope in the heat with the coffin, an airplane was gaining altitude and speed as it flew overhead. I wondered if anyone in the plane was looking out the window and if they saw the hole in the ground and the little gathering of people around it. Did it give them pause to consider why, and to where, they were rushing at such high altitude?

    I noticed the tombstones weren’t going anywhere. Nor were the bones lying under them….

    What pure JOY there is in simply breathing, simply walking around. Even a cemetery can inspire a gentle gratitude.”

  3. Thank you for all your thoughtful comments.

    ZdS, I have yet to read Atwood and enjoy her so imagine the shock when I discovered she had written the poem. Maybe time to increase my literary Canadian content!

    Christine, yes… we own nothing but are stewards of everything. Tough balance.

    More on gravestones next week! 😉

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