I’ve written about sleep and sleeplessness quite a few times before. It’s a topic that I keep returning to because every once in a while I’ll find my sleep pattern disturbed and often for a few nights in a row I’ll find myself either lying awake and unable to focus on sleep because my mind is racing or just out of bed, sitting downstairs in our house, wide awake.
This is a poem that focuses on the former of those two scenarios, although as a result of my mind racing, I eventually got out of bed and wrote the poem. It was a night where, if I’m honest, I’m not sure whether I was awake or sleeping fitfully and suffering with nightmares. One thing’s for sure; it wasn’t a pleasant night’s sleep and there was a lot that disturbed me. You think that nightmares are things you left behind in childhood, but then get reminded that you’re sadly mistaken!
The cold does not embrace you yet, for a short time its shiver soothes your skin like a smooth palm comforting you through illness, fear. An uneasy dream shifts and your thoughts are strangers caught in the void between the fevered images of disturbed sleep and the disquieting thud of your heart as you realise you're awake again. Without warning, the rough skin of working hands grabs at your jaw, takes hold, clutches. A strangers eyes stare out from a familiar face, gripped by a mood you know all too well, before one last squeeze, then the calloused hand, shoves your face away viciously, like an imperfect toy on a production line, rejected not good enough to be loved. You blink to try and wake only to find another face now, her hot breath invading your nostrils, her gibberish bringing spittle to your skin, her disapproval at the runt of the litter writ large in neon across unloving eyes and twisted expression informing you again of what feels like their hatred, before words are put in your mouth and you flounder, helpless against a place you don't belong, a jigsaw you don't fit. Shaking free, you brace yourself, turn your collar against the piercing winter and stumble forward, in search of somewhere warm. And while these ghosts will always haunt you with their chill, every once in a while the winter sun will warm your skin.
It feels like there are two antagonists in this poem. The first I’m not sure of and it would be unkind to speculate. However, the second is definitely my grandmother, who was someone that I had a fractious relationship with, at best. She was a woman who never seemed to display any warmth whatsoever to me, which as a child was quite perplexing. In company with my many cousins, I remember she’d frequently refer to me as ‘this one’ while everyone else got called by their name. Let’s just say that it was clear I wasn’t her favourite! I can’t say that her treatment of me didn’t bother me, as it did. But as I got old enough to make my own choices, I just decided to avoid being in the same room as her. Even now though, there are occasions when she comes to mind and it’s never pleasant. Hence, the words in the latter half of the poem.
I tried to end the poem on a more positive note, just explaining what I’ve just mentioned, really. Childhood memories will always be there and will always crop up and affect your day. But there’s always a positive to be found.
I hope you enjoyed the poem or at least it had some kind of effect on you as a reader. The memories I’ve written about were incredibly vivid and I hope that feeling is conveyed by what I’ve written. As ever, feel free to leave a comment.