To reinvent sleep—but the gates have been put up
and where are we now, within or without

in the enormous room of shadow puppets
or the casual ward where they beg for wine,
a suit of warmer clothes; stitch them, they’re bleeding.
My mother too—she is poorer than she looks.

Is the child still in the crib, is this disruption his staccato breath,
must the lungs struggle, dependent always on alchemy?

Beside dripping trees, I marry you. Again and again.
And by the August sea, the glassy shore pulsates with kelp,
and the ocean swallows its artifacts.

I try once more to sleep
(you will say I have slept like the dead for hours)

but the mind is not a self-cleansing organ;
its detritus is vast, measureless.
Let’s bury each other up to the neck in sand.

Now we’re at a carnival, our parents wearing masks.
Iron strikes iron, the carnies are warming up.

The boy is nearly grown, his broken crib put out for the trash.
And the girl boasts, see, I am swollen, great with child.
But you are only being born, I say.

The far field sprouts striped tents, camels, elephants,
shrunken heads on strings, garish plastic beads—
every tattooed vendor is primed for some exchange.
I think it is time to divest, and will purchase nothing new.

A gathering of family from another, foreclosed life,
sage murmuring of voices, which are inaudible in the day—
English, Yiddish, Esperanto. They came by boat
and slowly parted from black wools.

We take their arms. We become their canes.
Forget we’ve shoveled dirt over those mouths, those eyes.

But you, lying prone, are welded to my living bones.
You’ve put aside your bronze spear, vulnerable in the dark.

Are you stirring, love? Because day
cannot stake its tent, or our ghosts burrow in,
if the ritual of waking is undone.

Carol Alexander’s poems have been published in several dozen literary journals and a variety of anthologies. Her chapbook, Bridal Veil Falls, is published by Flutter Press. Recent work appears in Big River Poetry Review, Clementine Poetry Journal, Clementine Unbound, The New Verse News, Split Rock Review, and Poetry Quarterly.

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