In the Secular Night

In the Secular Night


In the secular night you wander around

alone in your house. It’s two-thirty.

Everyone has deserted you,

or this is your story;

you remember it from being sixteen,

when the others were out somewhere, having a good time,

or so you suspected,

and you had to baby-sit.

You took a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream

and filled up the glass with grapejuice

and ginger ale, and put on Glenn Miller

with his big-band sound,

and lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up the chimney,

and cried for a while because you were not dancing,

and then danced, by yourself, your mouth circled with purple.


Now, forty years later, things have changed,

and it’s baby lima beans.

It’s necessary to reserve a secret vice.

This is what comes from forgetting to eat

at the stated mealtimes. You simmer them carefully,

drain, add cream and pepper,

and amble up and down the stairs,

scooping them up with your fingers right out of the bowl,

talking to yourself out loud.

You’d be surprised if you got an answer,

but that part will come later.


There is so much silence between the words,

you say. You say, The sensed absence

of God and the sensed presence

amount to much the same thing,

only in reverse.

You say, I have too much white clothing.

You start to hum.

Several hundred years ago

this could have been mysticism

or heresy. It isn’t now.

Outside there are sirens.

Someone’s been run over.

The century grinds on.

By Margaret Atwood 

Photography by Philip-Lorca DiCorcia