In the Secular Night by Margaret Atwood

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.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s website: http://www.margaretatwood.ca/

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About russellboyle.com

Russell Boyle, of russellboyle.com, is a mathematics teacher, writer, and poet. Russell is the author of a number of teaching resources, including the Year 7 to 8 Mathematics Short-Answer Tasks, the Year 7 to 10 Mathematics Multiple-Choice Tasks, the Year 9 Extended-Response Tasks, the solutions to the Year 12 VCAA Mathematics Exams and the Web-Programming For Beginners series of courses. Russell's poetry anthologies are titled The Beginning, Footprints and Loneliness.
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6 Responses to In the Secular Night by Margaret Atwood

  1. russellboyle says:

    Yes, her poetry is different, compelling. Another reader described her work as “edgy”.

  2. I like her very much. Obviously someone to read more extensively. I don’t know her novels.

  3. russellboyle says:

    I agree. Thank you for commenting.

  4. layanglicana says:

    Oh yes, this is good indeed. ‘The century grinds on’…solar plexus stuff :>)

  5. Great poem and I wasn’t aware of Margaret Atwood’s poetry at all. Thanks!

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