I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping and still spend an hour or two in the middle of most nights awake. It’s not that I’m worrying (usually), I just wake up and don’t feel sleepy. I lie there and think about my writing and other things going on in my life.
Sleep historians (yes – they do exist) suggest we used to be in the habit of sleeping in two shifts. This makes a lot of sense to me – I get some of my best thinking done in the middle of the night.
I wrote this poem for a project run by a Shropshire Arts Centre in secondary schools. It’s about someone I love, but it was inspired by a period when I was lying awake worrying in the middle of the night. It’s based on that sense of relief that comes suddenly after the intensity of the worry, just before sleep itself.
She wakes up with a sudden start
that may have been a noise
and her body begins to lock itself
with a thousand flowing could-bes.
She’s seized by an implacable fear
in the rare vividness of the night
in a mind more bright and quick
than daylight ever sees.
Holding her breath, she counts intently
the fluttered moments of nothing,
squeezes hard on rigid muscles
as the empty house sighs and creaks.
It is a patient waiting for grace.
For something that loves her very deeply
is slowly discovering the combination
to put her back to sleep.