It is almost midnight. She reads rules of Spanish grammar
in Dutch. This lets her fall almost asleep
until she wonders, what rhymes with ‘soporific’
and her mind’s off to the races. Ballads clash
with terse short-footed lines
in epics she remembers or might write
a dozen times again, each time forgetting
that she needs the sleep that’s purchased with the boredom
she can only find in studying grammar rules.
‘It cannot be true,’ he says – and he hopes that is true –
‘that I’ve lain awake half the night, and I’ve sleepwalked the other.’
‘Half,’ he adds pedantically, as true pedants do.
He misses the blanket he’d discarded in fear it would smother
his soul if he slept. He watches his fingers turn blue
with his red eyes shut tight, if that’s possible, and he implores
the god Morpheus to aid him in becoming a mammal that snores.
Cheddar sharp enough to bite
my tongue off helps me in the night.
When the bitter wears off and the hours
awake alone take on such power,
I give up sleep, get out of bed
imagining if my devil’s fed
a sandwich he will let me sleep
(or take my soul he wants to keep).
I stumble down the servant stairs.
Once in the kitchen, my knife pares
the cheddar’s rind. It slices toast
before I toast it from the most
mould-free bread I can unearth.
A steady cutting hand is worth
two fingers easy in the dark.
(Ave, a V then, midnight lark.)
Saluting, I turn the oven on,
admiring how the bread gets drawn
up at the corners by the weight
of centred cheddar slices laid
thick to make my devil fat
and draw his claws in like a cat
I watch cheese slide
around in the oven. I make fried
eggs and eat them with grilled cheese.
I drink pints of milk, hope they appease
the wake-up devil till he dreams
and lets me too, or so it seems.
It’s 3 AM. The therapy: hold a book
that I can read but won’t if I turn on the light
is working, is that therapy, although it took
at 2:45 all of my will and might
to keep the room too dark to read or write.
I ride loose thoughts that float to where it’s day,
to Tokyo, Seoul, Rangoon, Bombay:
so many places and people, a gazillion flies.
It’s 3:45. Morpheus tells me it’s okay,
and that he can’t sleep no matter what he tries.
‘You ought to be sleeping,’ my muse says. ‘Not reading the news.
That abets your insomnia and lets your tired dendrites confuse
your immortal whatever with a raft load of facts you can’t use
and the futile illusion that you could fall asleep if you choose.’