In this poem all is not what it seems and Margaret Attwood uses everyday images and an uncomplicated style to get her message across.
The supposed photograph which is the subject of this poem never actually materializes. She describes, in language that is straightforward, everything we expect to see which renders her revelation about the drowning all the more shocking.
At first, we have a visual picture of an old photograph, much like one of those "favorites" which we look at from time to time with "blurred lines and gray flecks" and which has become quite worn from having been handled too much.
Margaret Attwood goes to great pains to explain aspects of the picture that are apparently insignificant "part of a tree/ (balsam or spruce) emerging..." but which she uses to ensure that the pace of the poem is calm and the reader immersed in the detail. The actual photograph becomes insignificant with graphic details supplied and the reader's own "picture" is created in the mind's eye.
Having continued with minor details and lulled the reader, she veers off the photograph itself momentarily as she explains about the drowning. "I am in the lake" is an image the reader is unable to avoid. The reader is expecting to be able to continue creating his or her own images of the lake but is brought down to earth by this disclosure.
Now that the reader cannot avoid the reality, Margaret Attwood continues to use words to create the image and her poetry is
precise and suggestive, both accurate and full of mysterious implications
The reader is bewildered and shocked when he or she is forced to consider "the effect of water/ on light " as if any of that really matters any more. The poem continues but the reader is contemplating the event whereas Attwood is still focused on looking for her in the water because "eventually/ you will be able to see me."