I haven’t been reading my poem-a-day this week. But I’ve been thinking about a poem by my friend Sarah Harwell. She wrote this poem back when we studied together at Syracuse. When I first read it, I loved it. But it hasn’t been until now, years later, where I’ve come to understand the ritual and struggle of begging a child into sleep: the pushing toward and holding on all at once.
The past three nights in my parents’ house have been ridiculous attempts at swaying my son to close his eyes. “But Mom! I sleep with my eyes open!” It hasn’t been pretty. And so, I hear this poem in my head while I sit on the edge of his bed, pushing him toward the sleep realm, listening to his whining, telling him one more story…
(“Dead” was first published in Poetry magazine and then in a collection of poems called “Three New Poets,” which featured Sarah, along with two other genius poet-friends of mine, Courtney Queeney and Farah Marklevits. I love all three of them. The book is worth picking up. Read Mary Karr’s recommendation of this poem for a Washington Post series here.)
The way my daughter sleeps it’s as if she’s talking
to the dead. Now she is one. I watch her eyes roll
backwards in her head, her senses fold
one by one, and then her breathing quiets to a beat.
Every night she fights this silent way of being
with all the whining ammunition that she has.
She wins a tired story, a smothered song, the small
and willful links to life that carry her away.
Welcome to the Egyptian burial. She’s gone to Hades
with her stuffed animals. When she wakes,
the sad circles disappeared, she blinks
before she knows me. I have listened
to one million breaths of her. And every night
my body seizes when she leaves to go
where I am not, and yet every night I urge her, go.
Sarah C. Harwell