The Newborn Explains Three Days of Prodromal Labor; The Newborn Explains His Unhelpful Sleep Patterns; The Infant Explains His Continuing Sleep Problems
The Newborn Explains Three Days of Prodromal Labor
Don't ask me why—
already the memory is hazy
in all this new daylight.
But maybe it was a chorus of angels
After all, we know that the womb is full of angels,
that angels are always in chorus,
that moreover they fear any kind of change.
But for whatever reason when your body
tried to press me loose
I perched myself on a ledge of your bone
and refused to move.
What did I know about the world to come?
The angels would have had nothing good to say about it.
Everything's louder out there, for example.
Or, In toil shall you eat, all the days of your life.
That kind of thing.
Of course I didn't know that the days and nights
had twisted you sleepless and urgent across the couch.
There was no one to speak on your behalf in the womb.
No – only the terrible pressure,
the loss of nine months of hovering,
of floating in darkness,
of what felt
to narrow shoulders
almost like wings.
The Newborn Explains His Unhelpful Sleep Patterns
The dark is nothing special to me;
I don't even see it.
When I was inside, of course,
it was everything—
my day, my night, my eating.
I talked darkness, heard darkness,
kicked darkness and got no reaction.
I drank darkness as though through gills.
And so your four o'clock a.m.
doesn't phase me,
doesn't leave me wondering
about the nature of time,
about whether life's drama has any meaning
if it goes unmarked by nightly intermissions.
But I know you're troubled,
you who bounces me desperately on your thighs,
your fingertip plugging my klaxon mouth.
I know you think about
the rest of the world sleeping,
the possibility that something
basic to nature
has been upended—
that you're floating away from the living.
But remember your Talmud:
it's sleep, not waking, that's a sixtieth part of death.
No wonder I'm so cagey about it;
no wonder I treat sleep like something to be touched
rather than held.
And no wonder you're so disturbed;
night after night with me
you're getting closer and closer to life,
that light-indifferent predator,
and in all this darkness,
you can barely track its coming.
The Infant Explains His Continuing Sleep Problems
When did you teach me this?
Was it in that first moment,
when in the interior of you
you zipped me together
out of your equally insomniac halves?
It's you, of course,
who fight off rest each night
as though afraid to be pinned down
by something so dumb and easy as sleep.
Or maybe you taught me in the months since,
months where my wakings
brought me milk, skin, the bed,
the smell of irritable but dependable love,
of your neededness?
Flash forward in your minds
to the first night I'm quiet until dawn—
will you rush in to check my breathing,
the pulse of your ongoing use?
When did you teach me this?
When did you teach me
that sleep is something to be resisted,
that our most childlike urges are to be preferred,
lifted still screaming from their blankets,
brought close to the warmth of the chest,
where we learn to want
more skillfully than we ever learn to need?
David Harris Ebenbach's poetry has been published in, among other places, Phoebe, Literary Mama, and the Stickman Review. His first collection of fiction, Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), was selected as the 2005 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and the 2006 winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writer Award. He also wrote the chapter, "Plot: A Question of Focus," for Gotham Writers Workshops' book Writing Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2003). He has a PhD in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in writing from Vermont College and is a Professor of Creative Writing at Earlham College.