SPELLING by Margaret Atwood


My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue, and hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.
I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves into rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.
A child is not a poem,
a poem in not a child.
There is no either/or.
I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.
Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.
A word after a word
after a word is power.
At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

You Begin
Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
This is your hand
This is your eye,
This a fish, blue and flat
On the paper, almost
The shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an o
Or a moon, whichever
You like. This is Yellow.


Outside the window
Is the rain, green
Because it is the summer, and beyond that
The trees and then the world;
Which is round and has only
The colors of these nine crayons.


This is the world, which fuller
And more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
With the red and then the orange; the world burns.


Once you have learned these words
You will learn that there are more
Words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
Your hand to this table,
Your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.


This is your hand, these are my hands, this
Is the world, which is round but not
Flat and has more colors than
We can see.
It begins, it has an end,
This is what you will
Come back to, this is your hand