Sleep 2.0.1

painting by Jefferey Batchelor

painting by Jefferey Batchelor

In 1985, I lost the knack of sleeping, and I blame it on Porter-Gaud School. Even the year before I started teaching there, I slept, if not like a baby, like a serene thirty-something who enjoyed the more than occasional malted beverage and could count on eight interrupted hours.

However, in August of 1985, the night before my very first day of teaching high school, my eyes popped open at 3 am like two too tightly wound window shades springing to the top of the sill.

Suddenly, I’m awake and awake and awake. That inaugural night, I kept repeating in my head, “I got to get asleep, I got to get asleep, I got to get asleep,” huffing along like “The Little Train That Couldn’t,” but I didn’t drift off until  a scant forty minutes or so before the alarm was set to blast me awake.

So, of course, I shuffled muck-headed through that first day like an extra from Dead Men Walking, making, as zombies tend to do, a bad impression.

This pattern of sleepless nights has persisted ever since, and I have written about my chronic insomnia HERE (seriously) and HERE (comically).

However, I swear on my freshly deceased mother’s grave, I’ve never suffered insomnia quite as bad as last night/this morning, so to try to block out those para-paranoid thoughts that swarm like bats at 3am on weeknights, I composed an Italian sonnet in imitation to Sir Philip Sidney’s famous Sonnet 39, “To Sleep.” It’s an intricate form, with iambic pentameter as its meter and an abbaabbacdecde rhyme scheme that severely limits vocabulary. I thought that the exercise would wear me out as I lay there Homer-like in the dark without pen or paper, but alas, it did not.

So here it is, and I dedicate it to my fellow insomniacs.


                                          To Sleep 2.0.1

“Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care” – Macbeth

Yo, Morpheus, you sadistic bastard,
Where the fuck are you? Snorting crystal meth
with the Sand Man? Can’t you see I’m a wreck,
tossing and turning like mad — backwards,
sideways? Even bedbugs have left in distress
in search of a habitat less turbulent. Fuck,
man, I swear I’ll put a noose around my neck!
My sleeve of care has unraveled past my wrist,
all the way up to my elbow! Swerve in a sestet?
How? Why? Nothing changes hour-after-hour:
drip drop drip drop drop drop drop – disturbing
thought follows disturbing thought. My sweat-
ing self craves relief! You have the power,
sweet Morpheus, to sing me to sleep. Sing!

Zen Lullaby

Morpheus and Iris, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1811

Morpheus and Iris, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1811

Poets for centuries have lauded the serenity that sleep can bring. From Rolfe Humphries’s gorgeous translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, here’s Alcyone in Book 11 addressing Morpheus, the God of Sleep:

O mildest of the gods, most gentle Sleep,

Rest of all things, the spirit’s comforter,

Router of care, O soother and restorer . . .

O, to be able to sneak off on a weeknight to Morpheus’s cave where

[ . .] No bird

With clarion cry ever calls out the morning,

Dogs never break the silence with their barking,

Geese never cackle, cattle never low,

No boughs move in the stir of air, no people

Talk in human voices.  Only quiet.

From under the rock’s base a little stream,

A branch of Lethe, trickles, with a murmur

over the shiny pebbles, whispering Sleep!

Before its doors great beds of poppies bloom

And other herbs, whose juices Night distills

To sprinkle slumber over the darkened earth.

There is no door to turn upon its hinge

With jarring sound, no guardian at the gate.

Me rather:

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

We’re talking two the three a.m., brothers and sisters, the illuminated digits of the alarm clock silently progressing towards Morpheus-bereft morn and its traffic-choked slow progression to an awaiting electronic mailbox teeming with emails cajoling, demanding, chuckling, warning, applauding, joking, alerting, reminding.

What we need is a 3 a.m. surefire lullaby for adults that will allow “[t]he kind assassin Sleep” to “draw a bead and blow [our] brains out” (Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep”).

However, brothers and sisters, this ain’t it:

art and lyrics by Wesley Moore

collage and lyrics by Wesley Moore