Insomnia as Transfiguration
Because the night is a scattering of sounds—blunt
branches hurtling to the ground, a nest stir, a sigh
from someone beside me. Because I am awake
and know that I am not on fire. I am fine. It’s August.
The scar on my neck, clarity—two curtains sewn.
A little door locked from the inside.
Nothing wants anything tonight. There are only stars
and the usual animals. Only the fallen apple’s wine-red crush.
Rabbits hurtle through the dark. Little missiles.
Little fur blossoms hiding from owls. Nothing wants
to be in this galaxy anymore. Everything wants the afterlife.
Dear afterlife, my body is lopped off. My hands
are in the carport. My legs, in the river. My head, of course,
in the tree awaiting sunrise. It dreams it is the owl,
a dark-winged habit. Then, a rabbit’s dash
to the apple, shining like nebulae. Then the owl
scissoring the air. The heart pumps its box of inks.
The river’s auscultations keep pace
with my lungs. Blame the ear for its attention. Blame
the body for not wanting to let go, but once a thing moves
it can’t help it. There is only instinct, that living “yes.”
No One Sleeps Through the Night
from The Baby Book by
Drs. William and Martha Sears
Now the neighbor’s horse is tied to the hitching post and the bats
keep their own vigils, but they are no ones. The no ones are
taking apart fiberglass in the attic. I hear them
at this hour in the wall. Can’t you? The no ones are nesting.
It is beginning to drizzle. Can't you hear raindrops off the wet-dark cedars?
The toads, are no ones too, licking their eyeballs
unafraid. They scatter into the green green grass
while the river shudders all awake. Little singer.
Little mouth. Tiny thumb. No owls are out. It is quiet
and the bed is a dark smiling place. The no ones are free
to come and go as they please. Ease back. Be the barest
duckling feather falling, falling. Fall. Carry nothing.
Little no one, peace and go.
I'll be watching while the sleep gods
lean and cast their shadows here. They bless the no ones—
caress them beyond the pull of gravity or grace.
And no one sings. Nobody is opening the gate
or driving the car. Fiddlehead
ferns are on watch, thrusting their hands up
through the porch to hold the house down. The cat
is back asleep. Your bright eyes,
leave blue glance tracks. Who are you?
Little rabbit. Little mole. Little nuthatch, you blur me
into middle age. I feel old as stars, though the constellations
are unvisitable. And even if they were there are no
bread crumbs on the contrails. Lie down. Lie down. I’m lost.
There are only so many hours . . . only so much animal light.
Prayer for What Won’t Happen
I’ll entrust that I’ll keep on living for you—
that the knot in my throat is no longer there
to obscure us from whatever life might mean.
That really, it was an outcropping of stone
meant only to hold you here the way some marker
denotes distance or even time. Maybe,
in some galaxy we are admired for
our dangers and for the lives
we live despite ourselves. I believe this
as surely as the sound our rain gutters make
tonight in this unseasonable storm. That sound
so much like the light tap of a prayer block.
As sure as my pulse
I’m going to believe that this rain is not isolated,
that the two of us will keep
dreaming our animal dreams
and that every petty blasphemy I utter swirls
into the gutter in a green patina. Afraid? Yes.
What I fear should never be heard. It should be
quick as an eighth note or pressed down with steam.
Each night with you, I will hand over my stories
for another time. I will pick, from the ruins,
only that which I’m willing to carry. Only that
which I’ll fail to replace. I am never leaving.
On the high hill overlooking our house, I’ll make a clearing.
The moon will take up half the sky. It will hold you
without abandon, having neither love nor intent.
The Surgical Theater as Spirit Cabinet
I am without wings and obsessed with each patients’
dark physics—the way their eyes are the copper bells
signaling the end of intermission.
It is here I come to peel away all guarantees.
Gurneys line the hallway, some of them empty, some
with old men or children hooked to machines whose hum
is something I can sleep against.
If this is what I’ll become, then let me turn
into a puff of smoke. Let me hide
in the warm lining of a pocket.
Somewhere behind me, men talk through
their masks and as they speak I feel the space
between the air and my body. It is too bright
and the world becomes unknowable.
There is a chasm of indifferences as I am pushed
to the double door. It’s all so rehearsed.
Before my turn, I think about what I love
the most and remember the audience, the man
whose wallet is found in his neighbor’s bustier
or the woman’s watch now on the wrist of the magician.
I know. That’s not love, but a sleight of hand.
Presto, our lives bound from out of a top hat.
Now you see me and soon I’ll be sawed in two.
My brain sets its wavelengths on the flourish
of the sorcerer’s cape.
The voice’s redirection
and the sotto voce of the operating room’s radio.
There is nothing up their sleeves and
I am beginning to understand
my body as the little curtain closes.
The magician’s assistant disappears—slips
through the trap door soundlessly—my own
thin voice the hollow slap of a hand on a cabinet.
Oliver de la Paz is the author of two collections of poetry: Names Above Houses and Furious Lullaby, both published by Southern Illinois University Press. In addition, his manuscript Requiem for the Orchard won the University of Akron Poetry Prize for 2009 and will be published in 2010. He is the co-chair for the advisory board of Kundiman.org, and a recipient of a fellowship grant from NYFA and a GAP grant from the Artists’ Trust of Washington. His recent work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Tin House, VQR, Cimarron Review, Guernica, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at Western Washington University in Bellingham.