Scoundrel Time

Sleeplessness: Eulene-Style

                                        “Knowing I couldn’t sleep made it harder to try.”
                                                                  –Marvin Bell

Eulene tries anyway, even though insomnia
gallops like apocalyptic thoroughbreds
in her DNA, and her parents’ joke
motto, Wright’s Twenty-Four Seven
Somebody is Always Up, is so tediously true
that nobody has laughed for years. Now,

she lies in the dark with the phone
unplugged and photos of long-dead pets
turned to the wall. She switches on her miniature
Chinese fountain for good Feng Shui.
Her boyfriend Al, the family’s back-slidden
Buddhist, tells her it’s really to circulate

the qi, but with his Mr. Clean coiffure
he’s got to split hairs whatever way
he can, and when has Eulene done anything
for the right reasons? The gurgle
of perfumed water by the bed does nothing
to power down her mind, but it does

rev up, like sympathetic magic,
the pee-pee production centers in her brain.
She tries counting breaths: inhale and exhale
like sheep just shorn, the flock rasping back
and forth through the wheezy gates
of the sheepfold. But the metaphor

takes over—the sheep bleat, sheepdogs
circle them and bark, and kindly vets with
battered leather bags and North Country brogues
descend from their square black Packards
and trudge toward the paddock
as in James Herriott’s Yorkshire

between the Wars. But then? The metaphor
goes poof, and Eulene snaps awake in
the diminishing dark, her over-active imagination
defeating the purpose of her method.
What to do? Eulene’s not so sanguine—
the latest war’s still on, but she’s not

one of those bleary-eyed patriot
prodigals who has vowed never to sleep
until it’s over. She simply lies there
while pre-dawn light creeps like a feral cat
through the shrubbery, as newly fledged
juncos twitter unawares and towhees

mew in leaf-litter under the rhododendrons.
She wonders, How would you feel
if you believed in sleep as much as you do
in peace, but you can’t find a way
to achieve either? In the war of jangled nerves,
Eulene is losing both sides of the conflict.