Not to be confused with insomnia
is polyphasic sleep where one sleeps early
and then wakes in mid-dark for an activity
such as sex or farm chores or writing or reading
or idle television viewing;
when that is done
one returns to sleep and sleeps
until full waking. This is allegedly
an ancient pattern that was common until
the advent of electric lighting broke us
of natural habits. It has enjoyed a resurgence
in the popular imagination
in recent years as we try to justify
leaping from dream to awakening
in the middle of the night
without explanation. It sounds scientific
and right and logical and it’s soothing,
of course, to believe that there are reasons
for whatever happens to us.
Portrait of a typical night’s passage
in the modern era:
evening comfort to later boredom to sleep aid
(such as cannabis or alcohol
or masturbation or exhausted rage
at the Great Unnamed)
to slumber to waking to staring
at ceiling, at walls, at all of history
as preface to what is to come until this
kills enough urge to stick around
and see the outcome that we fall
back to sleep until the alarm sounds
and we rise unwilling to the New
that is the same Old.
Polytheists might describe
the Mid-Night Waking as
a normal thing driven by local gods
at their shift change — they
punch in and out and we’re the clocks
that register the bustle.
Monotheists might say
it’s the moment we recognize our sins
or the glory of the One
and we can’t sleep through that. Atheists
might say we wake for biological
imperatives long ago programmed.
No one knows, say the agnostics.
All of them say we should try to make the best
of the time we have between the Sleeps,
although there’s something to be said
that is not said well by any of them
or by any of us about the utility of sleep
not merely for rest or for how it facilitates
dreaming, but for how that unconsciousness
prepares us for and protects us from
the fear we have of what we see
while awake; perhaps we wake in the dark
merely to take a breath before we plunge
back into those better depths.
Maybe we’re meant to be whales, concealed
for long periods from the Light.
Maybe we’re meant to be comets,
passing through only at intervals.
Maybe we are multiple gods,
or multiples of
on the pillow for a spell,
learning to be comfortable
at letting it all Be.