Working While Others Sleep

I love with a secret joy to watch
over the sick as they sleep--the
halls tunneling into darkness, the doctors
banished at last to their beds, the
night opening like a desert before me.

I enter the room, flashlight
dead in my hand, and there the moon dances
on four silent faces.
How beautiful you all are.
Even you Mr. Willoughby, face divided
in day by bitterness, a mind unforgiving
of its body, even you
can't help yourself fall
like an infant angel into the
lap of the mother.
Your face on the pillow, a
flower, can no longer hide the
tenderness you've denied ever having.

And you McPhee, your creased hand crooked
in the corner of your neck,
fingers curled like a fiddlehead around
some forest shadow. I want
to slip my hand in yours and
feel the river of dreams returning.

But Henry, you are my favorite,
in sleep you fall so far that
every time I hear you take in the night
and then give it back
I leave the room brimming
with the mystery of sleeping life.

:: Alicia Priest, in Paperwork: Contemporary Poems from the Job (Harbour, 1991)

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