Late at Night in Bed

My wife tells me she hears a beetle
Scurrying across the kitchen floor.
She says our daughter is dreaming

Too loudly, just listen, her eyelids
Are fluttering like butterflies.

What about the thunder, I say,
What about the dispatches from the police car
Parked outside, or me rolling over like a whale?

She tells me there’s a leaf falling
And grazing the downstairs window,
Or it could be glass cutters, diamonds,
Thieves working their hands toward the latch.
She tells me our son is breathing too quickly,
Is it pneumonia, is it the furnace
Suddenly pumping monoxides through the house?

So when my wife says sleep, she means
A closing of the eyes, a tuning
Of the ears to ultra frequencies.

(It is what always happens
When there are children, the bed
Becoming at night a listening post,
Each little ting forewarning disaster.)

Downstairs there is the sound
Of something brushing against something else
And I try to listen as my wife might listen,
Insects, I say, dust on a table top,
Maybe a knife’s edge against the palm.

But she tells me it’s only
The African violet on the windowsill
Putting out another flower,
And falls luxuriously into a dream
Of being awake and vigilant.

So the house grows noisier,
There are clicks in the woodwork,
There are drips, raps, clunks, things
To make sense of, make benign.

My son and daughter are sleeping calmly,
And the stairs, yes, are creaking,
The wind, I think, or maybe two men,
Where’s the beaker of acid,
The bowling ball, the war hoop
I learned in second grade?

So this is what it’s like when there’s
No one left but you to love and defend.

Outside there are cats in a fight
And they remind me too much of babies crying.
Then the bottle thrown against the stoop,
The sound of something delicate shattered.

My wife stirs, Be glad, she says,
Sound doesn’t carry far, that you don’t hear
The whole of it, cries in the night,
Children in other cities, hurts, silences.

And she’s right, I can’t hear the whole of it,
Or else I hear too much and it’s noise
Or I make it noise because it’s too much.

So I begin homing in on something
Around me, something distinct, my wife’s
Breathing, a window’s rattle. Outside,
Grass is lengthening in the dark,
And sap running up the phloem of the maple,
(Do I hear it? And how the stars must be wheeling!)
And in the far room, my children’s
Hearts are keeping time, for them, for us
Who have begun to listen in earnest.

Gregory Djanikian, “Late at Night in Bed” from Falling Deeply into America. Copyright © 1989 by Gregory Djanikian. Used by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Source: Falling Deeply into America (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989)
More Poems by Gregory Djanikian