The Labor of Waking

Difficult work. For the man who falls out
of mass migrations, waking to a cot in Kazakhstan, for the woman who can wed
sleep as salt weds water
but rises for the graveyard shift, for all five billion of us

meandering wakers, tongues
ballooned beyond speech, seeing in sleep
a side of things more greenly,
where a room’s wrought
in bolder hues, and seethes with meaning, it is difficult.
Of course, we must pretend

it is easy, must cast off our starred coverlets

as if they were nets, flop out
onto the cold floor. We must not unsettle
the dog, we must not cry—
though there was a first waking, a tumbling and splitting
where we were permitted to show

the gut urge, our hatred for being here.

Then we had purple faces,
clenched fists, closed eyes, the most perfect wail.
To give back an honesty to things
we would, the five billion of us, each day wake with the visible
signs of our horror, bloodied

with the fluids of elsewhere—and dream, a great placenta,

would fall out with us, baggy
and black, deflated on the floor.
Some spirit of good would swab and dress
our bodies, would take photographs:
the puckered lips, the dark tomato faces,

our wrinkles, little nowheres

from the nowhere we’d been.
We would gurgle, not yet knowing
those valleys where many walk,
the pits into which the awakened fall,

that there will come so many terrors to us

and to our measured hours.
Or that, after many mornings, many days,
we would come to love
this waking life enough to dread its loss.

:: K. A. Hays, Dear Apocalypse (2009)

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