Sleep at This Age

William Olsen


the very idea of sleep has changed

it is its own forever

it is eternity hanging by a rope of air

and it has a voice of falling

from a bridge of its own making

into a mysterious net

to just lie here

and take time with the thought of a continuity

that leaves one

behind at accelerating speeds

is what I was born for

there’s far more to sleep than sleep

something about trusting to time

some old memories

I never get over

this much

this little

ashes returning to their flames

as I lie back

memories are remembering memories it’s a business

rehearsing and rehearsing

conflicts so profound

they have their own winters and springs

epic resentments

are taking sail for war and peace again

pinwheels of nostalgia immortally spin

in eternal infant cemeteries

what I might have said to what was said

hits me all over

I scrutinize my own honesties

their intentions are see-through

my doubts are slipping away like divinities of acrid moonlight

without me awake now

what will they look for

I have become my very own ghostwriter

closing my eyes on the night



and when this voice is gone I will be gone

breath makes a little voice, another

whatever voice breath makes it will ask more

eyes shut, ears life boats open wide, adrift

no bribing my nightmares, no flattering my fears

no playing to the mercies of my dreams

this agitated voice is more quiet than the stars

farther away than hearing or not hearing

no dark to shut its eyes or close its ears

no putting the dark outside under a spell

and the outside is no less understandable

my wife’s face is as silent as another earth



I can’t sleep she always says she can’t and then she does

her breathing, it makes a little voiceover

her thoughts must be farther away than her breath

trees outside in the moon’s cratered phases have gone under an

     unearthly spell

the curtains open like the wings of a moth

asleep in some vaster harmony than ours



faint breeze, the curtains ripple almost on their own

whatever prized regrets are for they know I am unworthy

saying yes, we will unwind our winding sheets

the mind fashions until it vanishes

all by itself . . . then its affections, then even its loves



our fears did not choose to, but let us go

our objections to sleep knew when to cease

gratitudes we counted till we couldn’t

our prayers and their satisfactions halted

but wishes inside prayers kept turning

their little wheels and the big wheel that we turn with

returns us to window glass and the sunlit snow

along the panes and up in limbs and branches

nothing dawns that isn’t in its place

when our sleep stops this silence already is

we don’t turn to each other not yet

everywhere we look we look out of ourselves

we turn to a newness that precedes us

we do not choose ourselves or ourselves us

we look together not yet at each other

the snow this morning doesn’t choose where

anywhere our eyes open sleep precedes us

up there in the limbs and branches   the snow

falling in the night   should it have known better

fallen and falling   out in the daylight

there’s a ghost sun up there   far off

everything beneath our feet has fallen there


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