Image by Jim Allen

King Lear in Respite Care

Margaret Atwood


King Lear in Respite Care

Margaret Atwood


Poem introduction

I wrote a sequence of poems about my father who died in 1994.

King Lear in Respite Care

King Lear in Respite Care

The daughters have their parties.
Who can cope?
He's left here in a chair
he can't get out of
in all this snow, or possibly
wallpaper. Wheeled somewhere.
He will have to be sly and stubborn
and not let on.

Another man's hand
coming out of a tweed sleeve that isn't
his, curls on his knee. He can move it with the other
hand. Howling would be uncalled for.

Who knows what he knows?
Many things, but where he is
isn't among them. How did it happen,
this cave, this hovel?
It may or may not be noon.

Time is another element
you never think about
until it's gone.
Things like ceilings, or air.

Someone comes to brush
his hair, wheel him to tea-time.
Old women gather around
in pearls and florals. They want to flirt.
An old man is so rare.
He's a hero just by being here.

They giggle. They disappear
behind the hawthorn bushes
in bloom, or possibly sofas.
Now he's been left alone
with the television turned on
to the weather program, the sound down.

The cold blast sweeps across
the waste field of the afternoon.
Rage occurs,
followed by supper:
something he can't taste,
a brownish texture.

The sun goes down. The trees bend,
they straighten up. They bend.
At eight the youngest daughter comes.
She holds his hand.
She says, Did they feed you?
He says no.
He says, Get me out of here.
He wants so much to say please,
but won't.

After a pause, she says -
he hears her say -
I love you like salt.


in the UK from Eating Fire (Virago, 1998) © Margaret Atwood 1998; in the US from Selected Poems I (Houghton Mifflin, 1976), © 1976 Margaret Atwood, and from Selected Poems II (Houghton Mifflin, 1987), © 1987 Margaret Atwood, used by permission of the author.

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