In this poem, as in others of Margaret Atwood, there is a tension between the apparent serenity of nature and the reality that lies hidden. At first, the speaker describes the inability to distinguish anything in the photograph as it appears to be "a smeared/print: blurred lines and grey flecks" that blend in with the paper on which the poem is written. This photograph lacks definition in the photographic sense of line and shading, while, at the same time, the woman herself lacks a defining place in the photograph amid all the "blurred lines and grey flecks." In fact, she is subsumed in this photograph, a figurative indication that she has been in a repressed position in the "small frame house." Indeed, as the poem progresses, the reader learns that the speaker is "just under the surface," dominated by the scene of the tree and house.
The focus of the central part of the poem is the "thing that is like a branch: part of a tree" and "what ought to be a gentle/slope, a small frame house." That is, nature (the tree) and man (who built the house) are pieced together in disharmony and she, woman is submerged in the lake, dominated by what is on land.
The paradoxical situation here is that Margaret Atwood presents a scene of the quaint little house followed by a lake and rolling countryside only to remark upon the photograph's inability to capture reality. Having had no voice in life, she must interject herself in order to be recognized; so, in a parenthetical phrase, she informs the reader,
("The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned
I am in the lake in the center
of the picture, just under the surface....
...if you look long enough
you will see me.)
Thus, all has not been a scene of pastoral bliss; alienated from nature and the home in the "low hills and lake," the speaker is "just under the surface," and enclosed in a parenthetical situation in which she is never fully realized as a woman nor recognized as one who has a viable voice.