All Over the World

INSOMNIA by Ellen Bass

All over the world, people can’t sleep.

In different time zones, they are lying awake,
Bodies still, minds trudging along like child laborers.

They worry about bills.
They worry whether the shoes they just bought are really too small.

One’s husband died, her son left for college, and she doesn’t know how to program the vcr.
Another was beaten by her husband.
One is planning a getaway.
One holding stolen goods.

One’s on the plaid couch in ICU.

His daughter, it turned out, actually does have a brain tumor even though the doctor said they’d do the MRI just to rule it out.
The woman on the other couch is snoring — which is strangely soothing — evidence that people do sleep.

Some are lying on Charisma sheets.
Some in hammocks.
Some in jail.
Some under bridges.
One is at the North Pole studying the impact of pollution.

A man in Massachusetts thinks about a lover he once had in Dar es Salaam and the jasmine blossoms she strung along the shaft of a silver pin, fastened in her hair at night.

Coincidentally, the lover, now in Rome, remembers looking out the window over the sink when she was washing dishes and seeing him reading in the lawn chair.
And she thought how, perhaps for the first time, she wasn’t lonely.

They’re all up.
Some are too cold.
Some too hot.
Some hungry.
Some in pain.

Some are in hotels listening to people have sex in the next room.
Some are crying.
One the cat woke up and now she’s worried about the rash she noticed in the evening and wonders if her daughter, who’s afraid to swim, should be pushed.
Some get up.
Others stay in bed.
They eat Oreos.
Or drink wine.
Or both.

Many read.
A few make Halloween costumes.
Some check their email.
They try sleep tapes, hypnosis, drugs.
They listen to their clocks tick, smartly as a woman in high heels.

Those who can, cling to their mates, an ear pressed to those neighbouring lungs like a stethoscope, hoping to catch a ride on the steady sleep breath of the other. To be carried like a seed on the body of the one who is able.

Right now, in Japan, dawn is coming.
And everyone who’s been up all night is relieved.
They can stop trying.

In Guatemala though, the insomniacs are just getting started and they have the whole night ahead of them.
It’s like a wave at the baseball stadium, hands around the world.

So here’s a prayer for the wakeful,
for the souls who can’t rest:
As you lie with eyes open or closed,
may something comfort you — a mockingbird, a breeze, the smell of crushed mint, Chopin’s nocturnes, your child’s birth, a kiss, or even me — at 3 am, in my chilly kitchen with my coat over my nightgown — thinking of you.

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