Once upon a time, there was a woman who missed her boat.
The names are unimportant. Think of how she must have felt that night.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was wrongly imprisoned on an island.
How did she sleep that first night she was free again?
Once upon a time there was a musician who wore leopard print,
played the drums, played until she couldn’t.
Just like those women, your mother seemed to me as she contemplated sleep,
her head resting in dream-twitching hands,
while I drag my feet to bed like a drunk drags his words.
Already the bed lamps are off and the light above the stove.
I, not having lost all my senses at so late an hour,
try to go to her ever so gently in that sleep-kissed bed.
Twin impulses of love and passion, harsh taskmasters,
direct me seized with a sudden glow
to reach out to her as she rests on her cheek on her shoulder,
gently take up arms and kisses with my hand.
I had not yet dared to disturb the lady’s—your mother’s—rest,
fearing the angry protests of one who’s had enough of today.
So there I was, stuck, my eyes rooted as I gazed at her,
like a hundred-eyed watchman stares at a girl with horns on her head.
It’s late at night when I want to give her a crown to wear,
when I like tucking her hair that’s fallen in her face behind an ear,
when I go searching in my pockets (I have no pockets)
for stolen fruit, coins, jewels, any offerings
to this sleeping goddess unapproachable—
how they’d tumble from my hands.
Every time she sighs with the smallest flutter,
I’m frozen, tricked by this false alarm, worried
I’ll dislodge novel fears in her dreams if I wake her,
or that she’ll mistake me for a stranger.
When suddenly the moon, running through window after window,
the moon, its light lingering like a gossip hound,
opens her closed eyes in a wavering moonbeam and
she says to me, arched like a question mark on her elbow,
“At last some rejection brings you back to our bed,
throws you out the closed doors of another?
So, where have you spent the long hours of my night,
so tired, poor baby, the stars called back to their posts,
like a dishonored husband is turned out of his house, like a switchblade
turns out of its case in a homeward bound woman’s hand.
I wish you could court nights like these,
just as you require I always have.
“Now I’ve been untrue to my rest, knitting myself tired with
scarlet thread and sad love songs.
Sometimes I used to moan to myself gently like an owl when you stood me up,
your frequent absences long while you were in love with another:
then sleep ushered me on happy wings falling—like the untucked hair in my face.
There was a last time you made me care enough to cry.”
Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
languida desertis Cnosia litoribus;
qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
libera iam duris cotibus Andromede;
nec minus assiduis Edonis fessa choreis
qualis in herboso concidit Apidano:
talis visa mihi mollem spirare quietem
Cynthia consertis nixa caput manibus,
ebria cum multo traherem vestigia Baccho,
et quaterent sera nocte facem pueri.
hanc ego, nondum etiam sensus deperditus omnis,
molliter impresso conor adire toro;
et quamvis duplici correptum ardore iuberent
hac Amor hac Liber, durus uterque deus,
subiecto leviter positam temptare lacerto
osculaque admota sumere tarda manu,
non tamen ausus eram dominae turbare quietem,
expertae metuens iurgia saevitiae;
sed sic intentis haerebam fixus ocellis,
Argus ut ignotis cornibus Inachidos.
et modo solvebam nostra de fronte corollas
ponebamque tuis, Cynthia, temporibus;
et modo gaudebam lapsos formare capillos;
nunc furtiva cavis poma dabam manibus:
omnia quae ingrato largibar munera somno,
munera de prono saepe voluta sinu;
et quotiens raro duxti suspiria motu,
obstupui vano credulus auspicio,
ne qua tibi insolitos portarent visa timores,
neve quis invitam cogeret esse suam:
donec diversas praecurrens luna fenestras,
luna moraturis sedula luminibus,
compositos levibus radiis patefecit ocellos.
sic ait in molli fixa toro cubitum:
‘tandem te nostro referens iniuria lecto
alterius clausis expulit e foribus?
namque ubi longa meae consumpsti tempora noctis,
languidus exactis, ei mihi, sideribus?
o utinam talis perducas, improbe, noctes,
me miseram qualis semper habere iubes!
nam modo purpureo fallebam stamine somnum,
rursus et Orpheae carmine, fessa, lyrae;
interdum leviter mecum deserta querebar
externo longas saepe in amore moras:
dum me iucundis lassam Sopor impulit alis.
illa fuit lacrimis ultima cura meis.’