Nearly anything, it seems, can startle you
awake these days — the faint rustle
of a bedroom curtain, clang and gurgle
of a steam radiator, phantom steps
crossing the hardwood floor,
the thinnest strand of light seeping in.
Hovering between sleep and awake,
you turn from one side to another,
the cool underside of the pillow
reaching downward, while you float
among the surface of things,
neither rising nor falling for hours.
It was not always this way, you think.
You slept like a stone through childhood,
slept through monsters and ghosts,
through colds and dangerous fevers,
slept as though dropped from
a passing plane, limbs positioned
like the most random of stars,
planted in the earth, unmoving.
Your daughter sleeps this way now.
Perhaps this is the gift we pass along,
the naive promise of sweet dreams
kissed into eyes and brow,
the worries we happily take on.
A father must sleep lightly,
every groan and ping of the universe
taken in, held, acknowledged;
while a child must not be bothered
by the trivialities of this world,
even if it breaks apart, even if the pieces
are lost for years and years to come.
by Greg Watson
Editor’s Note: This poem is perfectly constructed: regular line lengths, a few startling images, and a conversational tone that almost distracts you from the way it reaches into your heart and squeezes just enough to remind you of why you’re alive.