A Sad Child by Margaret Atwood

While I never blamed my parents for putting me in such a position between the firstborn of the family (who acts like the youngest now) and my two youngest sisters, I do feel the brunt of it sometimes. Growing up I just taught myself not to care. I do find this the saddest thing, though, something which is a bit true (at least, for this family):

“They tend to have fewer pictures in the family photo album alone, compared to firstborns.”

But because I’ve learned to live with it, and because I’ve long ago told myself that I cannot absolutely afford to get upset about things like this, I pull this poem out, like I’ve done a lot of times, and sit still, and keep quiet, and be okay:

A Sad Child
Margaret Atwood

You’re sad because you’re sad.
It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favourite child.

My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,

and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.

From Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.


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