Patti Masterman (US)
A Catalogue Of Insomnia
Just before I turned nineteen
I cut off my long, long hair
And Grandmother became ill.
It seemed like there had to be some connection
Though I could never pin it down
Did cutting my hair weaken her body?
My childhood was ended:
Was it time for her to leave?
I was very close to her all of my life
She raised me from babyhood, in the day times
While my parents managed their business.
She tried one day to warn me:
'I'm not going to live forever, you know.'
I just stared at her like some shameful demon
Had entered the room, and said nothing
I shivered and blocked out what she said-
Of course as soon as I was working,
Too distracted to pay much attention
She became ill, and came to live with us,
After that first wee hours run to the hospitals emergency.
She survived that, but the worst was still coming:
At night she was suffocating
Sleeping in bed with me
I say sleeping, but she didn't:
She sat up on the edge of the bed, hunched over
Trying to breathe, as I watched in a sort of paralytic, insomniac stupor
With asthma, I knew what it felt like-
Except that in time an asthma attack would go away.
I was dead on my feet at work that month
There was no sleeping for me
Nightly human struggle to keep breathing
There was no relief, no release in the nights
By day she always seemed a little better
My mother never saw her in the nights
I realize now my mother would have been worse off than me:
She could never tolerate people suffering, or hospitals
Maybe my martyrdom in the nights
Had some saving grace at least?
My Grandmother changed overnight
Into a silent zombie; long nights of suffering
Days of silence and not eating
Everybody knew what was going to happen
We almost had gotten used to the idea
Almost had pushed it out of our minds-
And then, we were surprised all over again
Death has that way about it:
It never wants to come while anyone is watching.
The house emptied out finally
And forever, of Grandmother
It filled up with bushels of flowers
If I forgot for one minute she was gone
The flower smell was there to remind me again
I grew to detest and fear that powerful smell:
It was the smell of suffocation and never sleeping.
Absence smells like chemically preserved flowers
In the hothouse of private hell.
It must have been after that I changed:
I realized there is no safety net, no sanctuary
You can run but you can't run away
You can't hide, and pretending doesn't work
In a world where the people you love
Are consigned to death from the very start
And you are the powerless observer
You can never trust anyone or anything again
And it doesn't matter how long you try to stay awake.
Comments about this poem (A Catalogue Of Insomnia by Patti Masterman )
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