Lisa Carl

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP

Those blue lights keep us
from getting enough—
a modern bedtime ritual,
the backlit screen.

We climb to the mountain edge, where
tourists flock after dark to see blue
flames from the combustion of gases.

We undergo a startling
metamorphosis. We become
almost paralyzed. We approach
the frontiers of death.

Our team flies to an Inuit village–dilapidated buildings,
empty fuel drums–a desolate landscape, the bear lying
on the ground like an abandoned rug, nearly lifeless.

Life on a spinning planet,
with its endless wheel
of day and night, aims
to sync us with the sun

In West Papua, catchers bring butterflies for inspection.
They come from all directions, sometimes in the morning,
sometimes from darkness, dark, ghostly shapes in the air.

One’s nightly spindles
curate memories throughout
the looping voyage of the night,
of harrowing missions.

We traverse the roadless landscape, trek up valleys
where villagers tend apricots at the foot of glaciers,
barely aware of the bloodshed in the distant capital.

Sleep is ancient, essential, dreams
a source of enchantment, mystery—
or chaotic neurons, devoid of
significance, haphazard.

Love letters, a CD player, tequila, a Bible containing
tickets to a soccer match in Bolivia, a dozen kangaroos
and wallabies, foraging for seaweed in the waves.

In the untamed jungle
of the mind, our savage
instincts arise.

A Maasai girl bounces on the carcass of a female
elephant, poisoned for raiding grain stores.

Sex drive, elation, love:
the playtime of the brain.
Why do we stay awake?

 


Source: National Geographic, August 2018.

Method: For this poem, I excerpted stirring short expository passages from an article discussing the phenomenon of human sleep, in “The Science of Sleep,” National Geographic, August 2018. I shaped these passages into short lines to accentuate their sparse beauty. I interspersed these passages with excerpts from captions and other short passages from other stories in the same issue of the magazine, all describing the wonder, absurdity, and horror of the human adventure, as it is lived throughout the world. I distinguished these passages from the expository passages with italic font and longer lines.

Lisa Carl is a writer, painter, photographer, and associate professor of English at North Carolina Central University.