The Hours by Risa Denenberg

The Hours

I don’t sleep at night. I count the hours until morning.
I wait for my bride to carry me off into the sky.
The hours of night are as useless to me as the inside of a paper bag.
I count the minutes until sunrise. I doze a bit by early light.
I do nothing all morning. I need to wake. I need an alarm.
I am alarmed that I do nothing. Even a dead dog does something.
I want to do no harm. So I wait
For as long as I can hold a single breath.
I count my breaths. I run out of air. I am filled with shame.
Shame displaces the wind in my lungs. I wheeze and gasp
For breath. The ticking seconds rebuke me.
I am ashamed of things I should or should not have done.
I take blame for your mistakes.
Isn’t this the way it always is? Low hanging fruit?
I count seconds of daylight, by light of day.
All day, I cannot stop eating. I am never full.
At night, I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I don’t dream.
At nightfall, I wash my face. I brush my teeth.
I brush my hair while counting one, two, three, four … 100.
I count the 18 stairs to my bedroom.
The bed upstairs is where I don’t sleep.
The bedroom door is warped and magnifies the light,
The windy nightfall, the hard-falling rain, the storms without thunder.
I count the dark hours, flooded with panic.
I am alone. I am almost old.
My books and my cat try to comfort me.
I lie awake, ready to greet the Sabbath queen,
her fragrant spices commanding me to rest.
I know death. She will come to me at night.

by Risa Denenberg

Editor’s note: This poem’s surreal and disjointed imagery is held together with repetition, giving the reader a glimpse into not just hours, but an entire life.


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