Better Than Counting Sheep
For a night when sleep eludes you, I have,
At last, found the formula. Try to summon
All those ever known who are dead now, and soon
It will seem they are there in your room, not chairs enough
For the party, or standing space even, the hall
Chock-full, and faces thrust to the pane to peer.
Then somehow the house, in a wink, isn’t there,
But a field full of folk, and some,
Those near, touch your sleeve, so sadly and slow, and all
Want something of you, too timid to ask—and you don’t
Know what. Yes, even in distance and dimness, hands
Are out-stretched to glow faintly
Like fox-fire in marshland where deadfall
Rots, though a few trunks unsteadily stand.
Meanwhile, in the grieving susurrus, all wordless,
You sense, at last, what they want. Each,
Male or female, young or age-gnawed, beloved or not—
Each wants to know if you remember a name.
But now you can’t answer, not even your mother’s name, and your heart
Howls with the loneliness of a wolf in
The depth of a snow-throttled forest when the moon, full,
Spills the spruce-shadows African black. Then you are suddenly,
Alone. And your own name gone, as you plunge in ink-shadow or snowdrift.
The shadows are dreams—but of what? And the snowdrift, sleep.
—Robert Penn Warren, from Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980 (Random House, 1980)