Thursday 29 October 2020


Lee Krasner, 1981, nocturnal widow of Jackson Pollock

Is it insomnia if you don’t even try?
If you can hear the pigeons crooning, wakefully,
nudging each other towards dawn?

If it's already dawn and there was never
any night, am I in tomorrow or today?
In despair is where I will be later in the day.

If Eva knew I was awake, she would celebrate;
no time to waste, just celebrate
the golden, living hour. Here I am, here you are

and nothing in between, but the small, 
round, white tablets I must take
that keep me rounded up into the pen of

habitual complacency. Medical complacency.
Cawing crows. A black pen in hand driving
me forward on inked truths I can barely see.

Blink blink blink no more.
The insomniac body can only endure
the dark before the light.

Once light sets in, the sleeping begins.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2020

Salvador Dali, surrealist insomniac 

In 1889, Van Gogh wrote: “I fight this insomnia by a very, very strong dose of camphor in my pillow and mattress, and if ever you can’t sleep, I recommend this to you.” I have yet to employ camphor... 
Meanwhile, the French author Colette described insomnia as "almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge.” And Vladimir Nabokov, another famous night creature, once commented that “sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world.” 

How are you sleeping through this pandemic? The same? Differently? Grouchily? Ecstatically? Are you avoiding bed or leaping in, with sighs of relief? I have had a complex relationship with bed and 'somnia probably since I was a child, desperate to keep reading, but certainly since I became a steroid dependent human with lupus. Being a writer, a creative, I take heart from the artists of old, who may have been holding on to the edges of sanity but wasted no night light hours... 

(images from:


Lucy said...

Very beautifully penned and vivid. I used to have a hard time sleeping with the pandemic, but that was when it first began. Now I have been fortunate to be back in my usual sleeping schedule.

brudberg said...

I sleep as bad as before... which means waking up way too early. Of course, working from home for more than 7 months already (and getting ready to it another 12 months) does change you. Great to hear you reading live.

Ron. Lavalette said...

Oh, this insomniac, totally drawn in by even just your opening line, devoured this entire work and counted his good fortune, which had been (pre-)amplified by hearing you read it. My hat is seriously off.

Jenna said...

I like this. :) It's a terrible situation, though.

Sanaa Rizvi said...

This is so evocative, I love how the poem envelops and gradually lures the reader to think about the time spent during the pandemic. There are days when I can't sleep and some when I sleep without a care.

JadeLi said...

Since retiring in 2018, sleep cycles broken down by strict night rather than day mandates have fallen by the wayside. I'm up later and later and sleep til afternoon. It works for now. By the time my head hits the pillow I'm out quickly and seem to sleep in 2-3-hour segments, getting up for potty breaks in between. It means between 6 and 9 hours of sleep. I think the worst thing a person can do is be attached to a particular way of getting sleep. Whatever works.

Kim M. Russell said...

I haven’t exactly made friends with my insomnia, but I think I know it better, and It does bring me poems occasionally, so it’s not an enemy anymore. These lines are so familiar they made me smile:
‘If you can hear the pigeons crooning, wakefully,
nudging each other towards dawn?’
‘Cawing crows. A black pen in hand driving
me forward on inked truths I can barely see.’

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Insomnia is so tough. Not fair, with so many other challenges. As for me, I sink into bed early with my book and my tablet with a groan of pleasure and relief at finally being prone, and remind myself of my mother whose groan of relief resounded through the house every evening. LOL. I wake in the night, and read myself back to sleep. I do have some nights when my eyes dont close, but thankfully not too often.

Ingrid said...

I really enjoyed your reading at the end of Open Mic Night! This poem sums up so well the twilight zone of insomnia. I am lucky in that I never suffer it when I go to bed (I can ALWAYS fall asleep) but at times I'm wide awake by 2am and that can be it until the next night, so I do know how it feels. When the pandemic first started I was getting up at 5am each day to write, but now I squeeze it in at any time of the day I can manage!

Dwight L. Roth said...

A very good poem! Medical complacency must be very difficult to deal with!

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