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About this Poem 

“Both my wife and daughter like it when I read to them at night before bed. Sometimes, it seems like one of the most important things I do. There are several ways, I think, to deal with darkness, several ways to express the thousand things we can’t get to with our own words. Bedtime stories are one way—these little yellow tickets that open up our dreams.”

—Clay Matthews

A Bedtime Story

Clay Matthews

Pipe tobacco and the passing of clouds.
The small promises of collarbones
and cedar shingles. Has it been so long
since I’ve really said anything? My days are filled
with meaningless words and the child’s
laughter. Little of what I do
is important, but maybe the ways
are. The crows outside bathing
in the gutters, the strange necessity
of holding up an appearance
and nodding our heads at dinner parties.
If I misspoke, if I misunderstood…
A litany of the stains that show
through on white T-shirts and hands.
What comes out in the wash are afternoons
and sand from the sandbox, a migration
of beaches to backyards, backyards
to the bottoms of sewer lines and imaginations:
what shore do the waves in my dreams
arrive from? Sometimes I hear you
sing there. You bade me speak,
and I howled. You bade me roll over,
and I played dead. I show up beside you
in bed with a dozen bad similes about love.
Don’t ask me what they mean, or if
I am ever         —I don’t know. Only the streetlight
coming in and out behind the curtains,
our shadows making shadows
on the wall. Your eyes gone heavy
at the sound of my voice, reading you
these things others have written.

Copyright @ 2014 by Clay Matthews. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Clay Matthews. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 8, 2014.

Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews is the author of Pretty, Rooster (Cooper Dillon, 2010). He teaches at Tusculum College and lives in Greeneville, Tennessee.