The Z Train to the Insomniacs’ Ball

z train

 

 

As when an old film jumps in the projector,

        You will be wading a dun hallway, rounding

        A newel . . .

                             Richard Wilbur :   “Walking to Sleep”

 

mail slot 2

 

1

The tick tock clanging of a mail slot

is followed by a thud.  At this ungodly hour?

A typewriter-written invitation lies at your feet.

 

The Insomniac’s Ball.  Wednesday morning, one to five,

entertainment provided by Stan Kenton’s Big Band

reproduced mono on hi-fi.  Regrets Only.

 

How do they know that you are one of them,

whoever they are?  How do they know that at three a.m.

you tend to be tapping out trochees on a headboard?

 

elevator

 

2

The building isn’t as nice as you’d hoped.  You rise to the third floor

caged in an elevator, the only passenger.  The hall’s

somewhat seedy, the carpet worn, its roses faded.

 

You have been given the coded knock.  The first six notes of the 2nd movement

of Beethoven’s Ninth.  KNOCK knock, KNOCK knock, KNOCK knock.

The creaking door opening sounds like Bela Lugosi’s coffin

 

as your eyes adjust to a mazelike apartment, crowded but eerily quiet.

The Stan Kenton LP is scratched, the other guests preoccupied,

unfriendly, drifting through the rented rooms.

 

creepy parlor

 

3

You peek through a door down the hall

and meet the stare of your dead grandfather,

the one whose room you used to tiptoe past,

 

a medicinal darkness reeking

of the Great Depression.  As you escape, his memories

trail you like a shadow down the hall darkening

 

the passing stream of old folks, great aunts and former teachers,

rouged and wrinkled, mumbling to themselves,

some in bedroom slippers, others in stilettos.

 

library10

 

4

The library’s quite impressive. A ladder runs along a rail

to reach the volumes way over your head: a textbook

in Sanskrit on Chinese mathematics you must master

 

to pass that class you’ve completely forgotten about!

a course you need for graduation!

You climb to the top reaching, but then look down

 

dizzyingly into a snakepit, concentric circles

spiraling with antlike companions from your youth,

descending, swirling, like bloody water down a drain . . .

 

upper-hell

 

5

There is a shrine for your departed lovers.  On display

the beds where you once slept preserve the imprint of bodies.

Perhaps a long golden hair lies on the dented pillow,

 

but you’re not allowed to go beyond the red velvet ropes.

Where are they now – you wonder – what are they doing,

are they even alive, were they ever alive? You’re so

 

sleepy anything seems possible –

slants of light, cathedral tunes, leaden feet, riveted lips.

Couples waltz by mouthing one-two-three; one-two-three; one-two-three.

 

rusty and debbie oaint daubs

 

6

The oncoming day stretches out like a desert,

like the Bataan Death March, like life plus forty.

Thoughts of daytime responsibilities start to ricochet like billiard balls

 

without transition cold sheets, institutional whiteness, the ICU –

physicians and nurses whispering about your condition:

BEEP beep, BEEP  beep,  BEEP  beep . . .

 

You ride the rented hearse of sleep home

to twisted sheets, to creeping light, to the bedside’s time bomb’s

tick tock tick tock tick

Tied to a Stake

 

Tied to a Stake

 

“They have tied me to a stake: I cannot fly,

 But bear like I must fight the course.”

                                                                        Macbeth

Insomnia’s got me tied to the stake,

And the dogs of thought are snarlin’.

 

Is 3 AM too early, or is it too late?

How about fronting me a Klonopin, darling?

 

Too much screen time, not enough exercise,

A gumbo of gone-bad cod bubbling in my head.

 

O god, three hours from now, I’ll have to rise,

and shuffle off to class, the walking dead.

 

Open your books to page 77

Let’s see what John Berryman has to say

 

in this poem that he directs towards heaven,

in this poem where he pretends to pray:

 

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;

grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams.

 

My speed freak heart’s drowning him out like a drum,

Way too much caffeine, not enough cream.