Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age Poetry Friday Reading Themes

[Poetry Friday] Margaret Atwood’s “Postcards”

poetry friday

Myra here.

I am happy to join Poetry Friday again this week. I find that the busier I get, the more significant poetry becomes in my life. It truly is my lifeline to sanity. Our host this week is the ever-amazing and beautiful Tara Smith of A Teaching Life.


As we continue with our Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age bimonthly theme, I was led to this Margaret Atwood poem that unraveled my heartstrings.


It reminded me of postcards sent with painstakingly-handwritten little notes meant to be cute and quirky; the unparalleled bursting glee in receiving such artsy postcards; and the silence thereafter. Repeat ad infinitum. As Atwood says in this poem: “love comes in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on and on…”


I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
and their tracks; birds, blue & elusive.

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.

Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear. 

Margaret Atwood

This poem actually reminded me a little bit of Joni Mitchell’s Cactus Tree, a song I’ve been listening to yesterday. It’s poetry too, dear friends. Hope you enjoy it.

Cactus Tree

by Joni Mitchell

There’s a man who’s been out sailing
In a decade full of dreams
And he takes her to a schooner
And he treats her like a queen
Bearing beads from California
With their amber stones and green
He has called her from the harbor
He has kissed her with his freedom
He has heard her off to starboard
In the breaking and the breathing
Of the water weeds
While she was busy being free

There’s a man who’s climbed a mountain
And he’s calling out her name
And he hopes her heart can hear
Three thousand miles he calls again
He can think her there beside him
He can miss her just the same
He has missed her in the forest
While he showed her all the flowers
And the branches sang the chorus
As he climbed the scaley towers
Of a forest tree
While she was somewhere being free

There’s a man who’s sent a letter
And he’s waiting for reply
He has asked her of her travels
Since the day they said goodbye
He writes “Wish you were beside me
We can make it if we try”
He has seen her at the office
With her name on all his papers
Thru the sharing of the profits
He will find it hard to shake her
From his memory
And she’s so busy being free

There’s a lady in the city
And she thinks she loves them all
There’s the one who’s thinking of her
There’s the one who sometimes calls
There’s the one who writes her letters
With his facts and figures scrawl
She has brought them to her senses
They have laughed inside her laughter
Now she rallies her defenses
For she fears that one will ask her
For eternity
And she’s so busy being free

There’s a man who sends her medals
He is bleeding from the war
There’s a jouster and a jester
And a man who owns a store
There’s a drummer and a dreamer
And you know there may be more
She will love them when she sees them
They will lose her if they follow
And she only means to please them
And her heart is full and hollow
Like a cactus tree
While she’s so busy being free

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

25 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Margaret Atwood’s “Postcards”

  1. Myra, I have long been a fan of Margaret Atwood’s poetry, and this is one of my favorites! Some of the best poems are about the “missing other.” And yes to poetry in songs!! xo


    • Hi there Irene. While everyone else seems to know Atwood’s novels more, I first knew of her through her poetry. So powerful and raw.


  2. Myra, thanks for sharing this beautiful poem.


  3. Hi, Myra. Of course, you had me at “Postcard.” Margaret Atwood is known for her novels, but I’m a huge fan of her poetry. Had not seen this one before. Thanks for sharing it.


  4. Nice pairing of poem and song lyrics — you already know I’m a big Joni fan. Enjoyed this new-to-me Atwood poem; lots to ponder.


    • Yes, we have Joni Mitchell in common among others. While I thought I already know her music, songs like these surprise me and make me fall in love with her yet again. Have you heard her song “Conversation”? That’s another one of my favourites.


  5. I believe you should add one more word to Love, heartbreak & loss, & that is longing. These are both so poignant, Myra, & wistful, filled with longing, although the wistful usually is associated with youth, I suppose. Thanks for two more thoughts for our world!


    • Hi Linda, yes, you’ve captured it perfectly. Spot on with longing. And wistfulness. Interesting that you should regard it as an emotion associated with youth. 🙂 Perhaps it is something that the young at heart feels on occasion.


  6. Both of these are so beautiful. I did not know that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry. I’ve read nearly all of her novels. Now I’ll have to dig in to her poetry! And, you are right, these two poems do tie in together. Thanks for sharing them!


    • Hi! Yes, I knew of Atwood as a poet first before a novelist. The very first ones I read were “Variations on the Word Love” and her “Variations on the word Sleep.” Both very beautiful too.


  7. Myra, you have succeeded in wooing me with two of my most favorite artists in one post! Thank you for making my day.


  8. I didn’t know this poem or the song, Myra. What a great combination! Thanks for sharing them with us.


  9. haitiruth

    I don’t remember reading that Margaret Atwood poem before, and I really love it. The flipside of the tropics, love as a sickness — great stuff!


  10. Margaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell are both loves. And your theme: Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age — what a theme –I’ve been absent from Poetry Friday links for a while, and see I’ve got some catching up to do here. Thank you.


    • Hi there Jeannine, we’re actually about to end our theme in a week’s time. I must say that our current theme made it quite easy for us though to find poems to share every week. A lot of poetry deal with loss and heartbreak. 🙂


  11. I don’t think I’ve read Atwood’s poetry before. She certainly captures the fullness behind the pretty postcard image. And yes, songs are poems! Thanks for sharing both.


  12. Such a beautiful poem, Myra. Thank you for sharing.


  13. maryleehahn

    I agree with what you said about the increasing significance of poetry as your life gets busier and busier. True for me, too!


  14. Pingback: [Monday Reading] Faith, Hope, and Courage in Picture Books and Winner of AWB Reading Challenge for August |

  15. Glad Laura got to see this, since she is the postcard poem queen! Also glad you are here with us, busy as you are!


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