The Sleep Cycle
I. Crossing Over
So I’m waiting at the border, to cross
over into sleep. There’s an inspection.
Heart rate, check; breathing, check. No fidgeting.
Don’t stare, don’t look away. Your time will come.
Don’t pretend you’re ready, I know it’s hard.
They’re looking at my baggage. Maybe not.
They are. I know the things I left behind
and what I packed, I think. I think again.
There’s no one else in line. I’m on my own.
I have my forms, my declaration, signed.
Come on. Why are you letting everyone
else go through, when I am so deserving?
Okay—I know, I know—perhaps I’m not.
But really, I was here just yesterday
and they let me go right in. Nothing’s changed,
I swear! I want to swear, I really do,
but who would I be swearing at, and why?
I can’t look at the clock again, not yet.
I squeeze my eyes to see if they are closed.
They are, but why is everything so bright?
And why so loud? I’d rather not replay
the whole day over—can’t we skip ahead?
Okay, yes, that. And that. And that…and that.
I think that’s all. Yes, I’ll amend my form.
And yes, I have that in my baggage, too.
Yes, I can toss or pay the penalty
for keeping it. I want to carry it
along, I had it with me yesterday
and no one mentioned it. What do you mean?
Okay, just watch me. I am letting go,
I really am. I’ll just take the memory
with me, no one has to know about it.
Yes, just a visit, I don’t want to stay—
II. How Deep, How Dark
Everything drops away as sleep begins.
For all the unpredictability
and fuss of getting here, of coming in,
no matter how much drama and delay,
now everything is shuttered up at once,
the town is stunned, and all of us succumb.
My family of senses, lying still,
is resting from its labors. I can’t hear
the shuffling of memories creeping out
to exercise themselves, perhaps catch up
with others they have known, to reconnect,
however briefly, and to test the past.
Sometimes they make new friends while doing this;
it can’t be helped—as if my memories leaked
and put an invite on the Internet—
the door’s ajar and any crazy thing
can wander in. With no police to call,
I may be hosting mayhem in my REM.
The memories usually bring their bags of smells,
that mean so much to them, but they are faint
and rather worn from much remembering.
They need fresh air and moisture to come back
and typically there’s nothing like that here,
under the covers, though they always hope.
My tongue is loosely harbored in its cove,
nudging against the pilings, drying out
between the wash of intermittent waves.
Tomorrow it will take me out again,
to taste and tingle, whistle, tsk and talk,
but now it lies and lazes in the dark.
My shoulder to the pillow feels the weight
of everything that’s waiting in my head.
The feathers, pushing back, will take me down
so gently, bear me up with buoyancy,
absorb and wick whatever tears I shed,
and carry me in flight when I drop off.
There may be rest or hazard coming on—
my wife has shaken me to interrupt
an epic struggle with a wolf-like bear.
I’ve walked away from crashes, vicious brawls,
sometimes pursuing and sometimes pursued,
tangled in mystery or in urgency.
And yet, for me, for now, sleep is still sleep,
and not a nightly sentence gaveled down
to drag me in a jumpsuit made of sheets
along an endless corridor of fear,
until my sweats are shivers, or until
I’m freed, to rehabilitating day.
However deep I go, I’m coming up
when I can roll and kick the covers off
to pull the top sheet for my cape, to glide
above the shadows slinking back from dawn.
So—like the moon that fades—in sunshine go
the memories of the memories of my dreams.
Sometimes I’m ready to be here again,
and sometimes not. There is an exit tax
on leaving sleep; it can be rather steep,
something like turning pockets inside out
and leaving all my dreams there in a dish.
(If they’ve been x-rayed, I don’t want them back.)
Why am I doing this on the way out—
isn’t the danger mostly going in?
And currency exchange—no posted rate—
I just relinquish everything I have,
and someone—they—decides what I get back.
With luck, I’ll have enough to catch the train,
and make my train of thought with no delay.
I should be rested—not arrested—now
that I’ve had a moment to declare
the reason for my visit, what I bought,
and what I understood while I was there.
My stories won’t be accurate, and all
my snapshots will turn out to be a blur.
I’ll soon enough be planning to go back,
but—like last time—I miss their little sign:
So happy you were here. Please come again.
Review by David Memmott
The persona in this piece carries me in an easy blank verse across a guarded border into dream land and back again as a careful and effective conceit. The night journey falls into three natural stages: 1) Crossing Over, 2) How Deep, How Dark, 3) Returning. Crossing over is not easy, but hard. The persona puts his mind in order, tries to let go, but is held back. “I was here yesterday and they let me go right in. Nothing’s changed.” But of course something had changed, the speaker is a day different than before.
With all the anticipation of entering the dream world, the speaker faces the nightmare of a “replay/the whole day over.” He longs to move on. In stage two the narrative is broken into six-line stanzas of blank verse: “Everything drops away…everything is shuttered up” the speaker voice expands to include the town, “all of us.” Our senses rest while our memories come out to play, “any crazy thing/can wander in.” Critical faculties lapse “hosting mayhem.” Strong images of the tongue “loosely harbored in its cove,” a boat that “will take me out again,/to taste and tingle, whistle, tsk and talk…” Awakened from an “epic struggle” to come home. “However deep I go…in sunshine go/the memories of the memories of my dreams.” A fit ending for stage two.
While maintaining the border crossing conceit, the speaker pays a “exit tax/on leaving sleep.” Followed by a nice internal rhyme with “steep.” I liked the image of “pockets turned inside out” as having to declare to customs everything he might have picked up in dream. The hassles of letting go persists in return, waiting to get back in line with the rank and file. Another nice image follows with “my snapshots will turn out to be a blur.”
“The Sleep Cycle” is a plain-spoken, effective and understated metaphor sustained in an easy blank verse that carries the narrative without drawing a lot of attention to itself.