Saturday, August 1, 2009

two a.m.

hollow footsteps

stop and start

and stop again,

pacing off

the day before,

the day to come;

a young girl

leans her head

against the chair

and cries in rhythm

with the young one's

pull and tug;

old hands

tremble at the lock

that holds them,

cages him,

while strangers

snore in bedrooms

down the hall;

beneath the bench

two arms, two legs

a heap of rags

and bags seep

alcohol and other

fluid death;

a siren

cuts the night -

rifts, high and long,

scream someone’s

greatest fear;

alone at two a.m.,

I drink the dark

and shrink with

hearts that scuttle

in the night.


  1. Karen, that is such an intense and vivid picture you have painted with your words. I felt like I was homeless in a dark city night. Was that inspired by Van Gogh's painting, or did you put the painting to it later? Excellent.

  2. Oh, I am with you in this one, you and me, each alone with the ugliness of night. How can we make it clean?

  3. Is it about coming home then late at night, finding a hubby drunk on the couch, and the night sounds surrounding. Sirens, city life and loved the bit about snoring.But perhaps you are just an observer...

    Interesting and like the image pictures.

    have a lovely Sunday, sweet.)


  4. On second read, in an asylum, or homeless shelter.

  5. Ooo, definitely a homeless sad, such a prison of sorts, the psychology of it, the people, the emotions, the atmosphere of the place, all of it, so well expressed, Karen!

    Love when you choose a Van Gogh...

  6. I think it was in Something Wicked This Way Comes that Ray Bradbury wrote about 3 a.m. being the most alone time. The cruelest time. I feel like your poem is prelude to that. The hour before the last bits of hope disappear.

  7. Karen, again I'm not kidding when I say you have it in you. This is very powerful, yet beautiful. It sounds odd for me to describe it as "beautiful," but I mean the humanity of the piece is beautiful. It's obvious the narrator cares. The loneliness and desperation are heartbreaking and powerful.

    I was thinking of a homeless shelter, too. Or some other setting where people are caged in lonely misery. Even a jail scene. But you show us a universal setting. It could be anywhere and in any country. It could even be the cage of our own minds.

    I love it all, but the lines beginning with "beneath the bench" really hit me in the gut. And then the siren screaming someone's greatest be alone at two a.m. That is so true!!! One of the weirdest feelings I've ever had in my life was feeling lonely while walking through a huge city. I was elbow to elbow with people. But I suddenly felt so lonely. It felt like the movie Midnight Cowboy. Except I didn't do what he did...ha! ha!

    Thank you, Karen. You've given us another wonderful piece. It will stay with me.

  8. Cat - The painting came later. I was looking for something fitting.

    RW - Some things are so ugly, I don't know if anything can help. Isn't that sad? and lonely?

    Vicky - How nice to see you again. Hope all is well with you. I must get over there to see what wonders you've been creating. Thanks for stopping by.

    Sarah - Yes, I'm the observer, the one who can't sleep, knowing that all of this is out there in the night. I'm writing a happier Sunday poem - life can be good, too. Mustn't lose sight of that!

    Cat - I love it!See my response to Calli below.

    Calli - It truly does sound like a homeless shelter, doesn't it? That wasn't the initial thought -- just scenes of the sadness of the night -- but a shelter would encompass all of this.

    Jason - I think three may be worse than two. At two, you still have some hope for a better night; by three, I'd think hope would be going...

    Marty - Hi! Welcome back. I'll have to come over and see what you've been up to. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Just checking back for a second read and I see my comment got lost. Your poem reads to me like a casualty ward on the late shift - the sound of doctor's and nurses in the halls, a girl in labour, an elderly person perhaps in a dementia crisis, and a homeless person in an alchoholic stupor, and an observant poet with time on her hands. Whereever it is, it's powerfully presented. I wouldn't want to be there and I sincerely hope you weren't either.

  10. Jules - I missed you here. I think I was responding to comments while you were posting yours. Thank you for your kindess, as always. I guess if I have any over-riding character trait, it is empathy. It gets me into trouble all the time! Thankfully, this is fully imagined and not something I know intimately, but sadly enough, I know it's the way for so many people, so many whose troubles aren't confined to the nighttime, but for whom the night is an old friend.

    Thanks for the links at your place. I fully intend to give that a shot! The results on Glenda's site are awesome. (I've been spending too much time with the grandchildren -- "awesome"! LOL

    Mairi - This is imagined, thank goodness, sparked by a conversation I had with my daughter about the loneliness and exhaustion of young mothers who breast feed their babies and never get any sleep. After I wrote it, I nearly named it "Bedlam", in concert with those other disenfranchised souls who inhabit the two o'clock world.

  11. I love that your conversation with your daughter about young mothers inspired this. It puts such a different spin on the poem. I remember those long nights of dancing with my babies at 3 a.m., and walking up and down the hall to try to get them to fall asleep. Those were hard nights. Young mothers (and so many fathers too!) deserve all the hugs and massages they can get.

  12. Karen, this is very timely for me, as I recently had a night of insomnia. I had that same sense--of wondering how many moments of torment, loneliness, and agony were being played out as I rested my head against a soft pillow. And so, of course, we do drink up the darkness and become a player in it. There is something terrible about that weight, but somehow, I like to think that we're bearing a little of the load for the ones who really need it. It's not true, but maybe there is a sliver of hope at 2 a.m. A sliver.

    And the poem itself is remarkable. It manages to feel specific to that night, and timeless across the centuries. I was particularly struck by the way in which you described the man under the bench. And the hearts that scuttle. So perfect.

    You painted a dark, but illuminating, picture with this one, Karen. Van Gogh does seem well suited. I also thought of Munch.

  13. Grandkids!! That sounds like so much fun! Have a good time (I know you will).

  14. this one has a sadness, but an odd kind of solidarity, too, between the few wakeful souls on the 2 am shift - i kind of love being awake when it feels like the world is asleep - every indication of another person seems a lot more important - that's how i see "drink the dark" - pacing it and feeling it and reaching through it. beautiful.

  15. I too like Joaquin love being awake late till 3-3.30. I often go out to see the stars. I like the silence, the clarity of night (pun unintended) and the peace that comes with it.

    But I do know that somewhere that peace is broken by someones pain, agony, tears. But till now I never thought of that. To me the darkness and night allow me to truly be me, when no ones watching. No ones judging.

    I loved this a lot and its great to read everyones insight on this. :)

  16. Extremely vividly expressed Karen.

    Your concern and solicitude for the homeless and desperate stands out very much in your poem. I could almost see your hand stretching out to help them! :)

  17. This is just superb. Each verse is fine and fine in a new way. If I had to choose the most memorable, it would be:
    beneath the bench
    two arms, two legs
    a heap of rags
    and bags seep
    alcohol and other
    fluid death;
    but that is purely a personal reaction. It's lovely throughout.

  18. The night does indeed sound the deepest of fears, the mounting mundane not yet completed, the echo of the day's lament and yet too, a time for retreat, rest, renewal, and revelation. Your words call for confront and resolve. The many shades of dark, the many hues of despair, ready for strokes of light - this too, within your words.

  19. Cat - I remember those long nights, too. My youngest will have her second child in a few months, and she knows there's little rest ahead. I'm telling her ...for the rest of her life! :-)

    Sarah - A few years ago, I went through a long period of insomnia. For many reasons, I found myself awakening every night at 2:00 or 2:30, unable to fall back asleep. I tried to anesthetize myself with television, and when that didn't work, I learned to occupy myself with housework rather than with the quest for sleep. Eventually, things sorted themselves out, and I became a sleeper again. During those long nights, though, I got used to being awake and felt as if I were doing something special. I used to wonder, too, who else was part of that world. It did feel like a club of sorts. Now it seems that I may have passed you somewhere in the night.

    You always seem to hone in on exactly what I was trying to express, Sarah. Oh, and Munch would have been perfect!

    joaquin - Drinking the dark - imbibing all its revelations - is exactly the feeling I wanted to express, along with the solidarity I feel with those things that normally cause us to scuttle and shrink away - a contradiction that makes perfect sense to me. Apparantly to you, too. It's always nice to recognize someone - even in the dark. I'd tip of my hat to you if I had one!

    Aniket - Another one? That makes several of us.
    Do you know this poem by Robert Frost? If you aren't much acquainted with him, you should get to know him. He has an amazing range as a poet. It's called

    Acquainted With the Night

    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
    I have outwalked the furthest city light.

    I have looked down the saddest city lane.
    I have passed by the watchman on his beat.
    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
    When far away an interrupted cry
    Came over houses from another street,

    But not to call me back of say good-bye;
    And further still at an unearthly height,
    A luminary clock against the sky

    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
    I have been one acquainted with the night.

    Now THAT is poetry and I can't say any more.

    Margaret - Thank you, dear friend. How sad it makes me to know that I'm really not helping any of these disenfranchised. I'm writing words. They need action.

    Dave - Thank you. I am rarely satisfied with any free verse that I write, so your comment is doubly appreciated. I always look forward to reading your insights, and I am so uncertain of the form that your comment on that means a great deal to me.

    Rose Marie - Retreat, rest, renewal, and revelation. That I must remember. Darkness comes just before the dawn, n'est-ce pas?

  20. Ani and Joaquin - "But not to call me back OR say good-bye" -- I edited that, but my edits got eaten. I also spelled "apparently" right in my edit. Crap. Now I need to go back and read it all again! Oh, well. Maybe I'll just leave it and hope you understand.

  21. I felt like watching a movie scene created by your words. They live their own life just set free by you. I so loved this piece :)

  22. Karen, such imagery. We can feel the night here --and how different things can seem at night! I am usually something of a night owl, but it is so different when it is by choice. I have just finished a month of in-law visits, some unexpected, and the pressure of knowing I should be up early before everyone else made it hard for me to sleep--I was routinely up until 4 or 5 in the morning, only to fall asleep briefly before rising at 6 to shower and make breakfast. There is a lot that goes through one's mind when you are "alone" for that long (with your mother-in-law down the hall!) And unfortunately often not much good. It's a compliment to you that so many people can relate to your words here.

    "I drink the dark and shrink with hearts that scuttle in the night" indeed! :)

    I hope you are having a good summer!

  23. A masterpiece on a masterpiece...your work is always fresh and honest. You have great range in subject matter and treatment. Every poem commands more and more of my rapt attention.

  24. Lena - Thank you for that. It's sort of the way I viewed it - disparate pictures all making up the night.

    Jennifer - Welcome back! I had so wondered where you were. I thought your in-law visits were in May or June. Sorry to hear you've had a whole summer of company and exhaustion. I know how trying the whole experience can be for you. I hope you get some rest now and come back to blogland!

    K - Thank you for that. I'm still trying to find me as a poet. Does one ever? Glad you're getting a little "you" time.