Listen to Benjamin Gantcher reading this poem.
His job is to ignore the burlap sheet and sleep. Ignore the wadded comforter, bed down inside the tattered slab of cold that keeps the August miasma off their heads. Count her scant, slow breaths until, in sympathy, his lungs stick. The clock of light the blinds cut shows him that he is between time. Gnash and tighten all he wants. How the starved lions feel in the lithograph because they can’t eat Daniel in the pit. Furious and cowed and awed. Stripped of their skin the things of the nighttime world are raw and menacing. This wakefulness is not him but now a leftover simulacrum that he animates, a secret battery. What spell will break him out if he can’t manage a sentence worth waking her up? But there is a ritual of summoning. They have a covenant. He has to offer up his back and her rump presses, like a thumbprint, her seal. Contort his arm behind him and in this way may approach the swoop and table, palm the contour and praise the desert hairs. She mixes croon and complaint and repeats the message he maneuvered for. Yes, sleep. Then the spirit withdraws. On the scrabble hillside inside him a shale plate is dislodged. A thousand fossils slide to the bottom of a cleft. The dust climbs into the gas and glitters. It doesn’t matter now that his constellations won’t be mapped. His feet find her feet. The long toes and dry arches stroke his, softer than memory. The ceremony is nearly complete. It’s tempting to snuffle at her temple and hairline, but he won’t profane her favor, miss the small collapse once the word is spoken and she can descend. Her skin discovers the utterness of his gratitude intact. A psalm. And he sleeps.