Fritz von Uhde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale


She rose in frigid darkness,

hauled water from the well,

lit the fire, cooked the meal,

her work uninterrupted, invariable,

her duties clear,

no surprises, no light in her world,

(no lightness in her soul)

hours of toil,

before she could creep down the steps

to her cold, damp cell,

limbs stiff, ossified, a fossil of a woman

wearing her weariness like a shroud,

her life safe,

(as long as she could work)

well, safer than others,

who hid in fear,

she had a roof,

a bit of food,

she wished she could long for flowers

sunshine, love,

but the reality was

she only wished to survive.


This poem is for Secret Keeper’s Writing Challenge, using the words

Life/Work/Real/Safe/Clear.  I used reality instead of real.








49 thoughts on “Surviving

  1. First Trump wins the election. Abd no one seems to notice he wears no clothes (no one in the GOP congress that is). Then Princess Leia dies, followed too soon by her mom. Just yesterday it was Mary Tyler Moore, my reminder for how my life could have been. And now your poem. I cannot take any more sadness and grief. We all must yearn for flowers and sunshine and love.

    • I agree, Janet. I was feeling down yesterday from all the news–and no one, except the heroes of the National Park Service and a few others fighting back. I have a more cheerful poem coming up. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for the reminder of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Susan, as well as the other genocides. I was feeling down yesterday with all the news about the direction in which my country is heading.

  2. This is a very thoughtful and engaging poem. I appreciate the openness of it; the woman’s plight, thoughts and feelings could pertain to any number of human struggles. Anyone could relate to this.

  3. Powerful poem and all too real for so many, tragic but true. This really touched me and I’ve read it many times – hard to imagine when you long only to survive and brings it home how lucky we are.

  4. Nice writing.
    People who will complain about women who have nothing better to do than stand around protesting the inequities women face in our society need to be reminded that the current advances weren’t achieved by hiding in fear or keeping to a cold, damp cell.

  5. As someone already said, powerful words.
    I’ve been feeling down too. Sending out my postcards to my Congresspeople each day, but so many issues! it’s hard to choose just one to highlight. I feel that they are rolling over and playing dead already. Does not bode well.
    On the other hand…I will not give up.

    • Thank you so much, Luanne!
      I think The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the scariest books I have ever read. We were discussing it on FB the other night–as well as 1984. One daughter said she had been looking forward to the upcoming series on Hulu (it has a bunch of wonderful actors in it), but now it just seems too frightening.

      • I used to teach it for various lit courses. It always seemed more possible to me than 1984, for some reason. And it always irritated me that the movie was so absolutely awful. When I heard they were making it again, I was THRILLED.

      • I don’t have Hulu–can’t decide if I want to watch it or not. Last night, I woke up at around 2:30 and starting thinking about all the awful things that are going on.
        When I first read 1984, I was so young, and 1984 still seemed kind of far away and so was the technology. When I read The Handmaid’s Tale I was in grad school, and it seemed like it could happen. I think I may have had nightmares. But now it is SO much worse.

      • It might be better not to watch the movie. It’s going to make it all visual for you, and because special effects are also so powerful today it will be all the more terrifying.

      • I don’t think special effects would make a difference. I often think books are scarier because of what I imagine, and the horror movies I find the scariest are the ones that don’t really show much. 🙂

      • That might be true. I don’t usually see movies when they first come out, but recently I saw a few and was surprised how slow these new movies are. That takes unlearning what movies have taught us in the past few years . . . .

      • I saw Secret in Their Eyes this weekend. It’s a remake of an Argentinian movie that was really good. This American version was not so good and slow, sometimes acting not so good, and other problems. There is a difference between slow and the exact right pace for a story. I like the exact right pace for a story. So it might be slow (like Lalaland) and be good or it might be fast (like Ghostbusters) and be good (OK, you get the idea haha).

      • I get it. 🙂
        The play we saw this weekend–perhaps some people would consider it slow. There were times when no one spoke. And the play was almost 3 hours long, but there were two intermissions, and it didn’t seem long to me. Or slow.
        I knew the title of the movie sounded familiar. I had to look it up. We did see the original Argentinian movie, and it was good!

      • It’s whatever works. And also who you’re with. We saw a Kushner play that seemed interminable, but that was in part because the gardener dropped a gatorade bottle that rolled down under the feet over everyone. I spent the other two hours being embarrassed.

      • When I saw Fiddler at the Gammage in Phoenix people behind me spent their whole time unwrapping candy. I don’t even think they ate it, just unwrapped it. I wanted to smack them. Really.

      • Some people are so annoying! A woman next to me when we went see “Hidden Figures,” was texting during the movie. That was after she and her friend were talking earlier during it. So rude!

  6. It is a sad existence to have only chores and daily work to keep people, particularly this woman who only wishes to survive. We were not created to be empty minded vessels. Not even thinking of faith, but just our parents’ desires as they examined us as newborns. No one would dream how far backwards we may fall, except Margaret Atwood did!

  7. “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been on my mind a lot lately. I read it years ago, and have been debating with myself over whether or not to read it again. So much scary stuff going on now that maybe I don’t need it in my fiction, too.

    Another powerful poem, Merril.

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