Last Sleep Best Sleep

- 1970-

Life, this charade of not-death.
Amnesiac of our nights together,

overheard talking in some other voice.
The great fruits of my failure:

silk milk pills with little bitter pits.
Who talks like that?  Says we are

ever-locked, leaving everything
petalled and veined the way nature

pretended.  Synthesized within
an inch of its life. O the many faces

of facelessness, breathing in the dark—
as if we could shape softness itself,

mold it around us like yams mashed
against a trough by a snuffling snout.

Our own. There’s no way out. Born
to such extra, we are born to lose.

No hairy fingers tapering to threads,
grasping for some lost last use.

Once we were hungry on earth,
soon buried like root vegetables—

to starve the soil as beets do,
growing in our graves.

But now we must remember
our way back to face-to-face,

to eye to eye and hand in hand,
and lock and step and key in hole.

Remembering how not to fall asleep,
we become so desperately drowsy,

and all cells strain to slow to a stop.
All desire to choose otherwise quiets.

No, no one can say we didn’t suffer,
that we weren’t swallowed whole.
 

More by Brenda Shaughnessy

I'm Over the Moon

I don't like what the moon is supposed to do.
Confuse me, ovulate me,

spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient
date-rape drug. So I'll howl at you, moon,

I'm angry. I'll take back the night. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world's worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It's like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I'm going to write hard
and fast into you moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn't understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That's not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You're a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There's a hero.

The obvious sun, no bulls hit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I've had to learn to be direct.

It's hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don't hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

haunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night's problems alone.

Me in Paradise

Oh, to be ready for it, unfucked, ever-fucked.
To have only one critical eye that never
divides a flaw from its lesson.

To play without shame. To be a woman
who feels only the pleasure of being used
and who reanimates the user's

anguished release in a land
for the future to relish, to buy
new tights for, to parade in fishboats.

To scare up hope without fear of hope,
not holding the hole, I will catch
the superbullet in my throat

and feel its astounding force
with admiration. Absorbing its kind
of glory. I must be someone

with very short arms to have lost you,
to be checking the windows
of the pawnshop renting space in my head,

which pounds with all the clarity
of a policeman on my southernmost door.
To wish and not jinx it: to wish

and not fish for it: to wish and forget it.
To ratchet myself up with hot liquid
and find a true surprise.

Prowling the living room for the lightning,
just one more shock,
to bring my slow purity back.

To miss you without being so damn cold
all the time. To hold you without dying otherwise.
To die without losing death as an alternative.

To explode with flesh, without collapse.
To feel sick in my skeleton, in all the serious
confetti of my cells, and know why.

Loving you has made me so scandalously
beautiful. To give myself to everyone but you.
To luck out of you. To make any other mistake.

Big Game

        —after Richard Brautigan's "A Candlelion Poem"

What began as wildfire ends up
on a candle wick. In reverse,
it is contained,

a lion head in a hunter's den.
Big Game.

Bigger than one I played
with matches and twigs and glass
in the shade.

When I was young, there was no sun
and I was afraid.

Now, in grownhood, I call the ghost
to my fragile table, my fleshy supper,
my tiny flame.

Not just any old, but THE ghost,
the last one I will be,

the future me,
finally the sharpest knife
in the drawer.

The pride is proud.
The crowd is loud, like garbage dumping

or how a brown bag ripping
sounds like a shout
that tells the town the house

is burning down.
Drowns out some small folded breath

of otherlife: O that of a lioness licking her cubs to sleep in a dream of
savage gold.

O that roaring, not yet and yet
and not yet dead.

So many fires start in my head.

Related Poems

Old Coat

Dressed in an old coat I lumber
Down a street in the East Village, time itself

Whistling up my ass and looking to punish me
For all the undone business I have walked away from,

And I think I might have stayed 
In that last tower by the ocean,

The one I built with my hands and furnished
Using funds which came to me at nightfall, in a windfall....

Just ahead of me, under the telephone wires
On this long lane of troubles, I notice a gathering

Of viciously insane criminals I'll have to pass
Getting to the end of this long block in eternity.

There's nothing between us. Good
I look so dangerous in this coat.