These he knew were minor presences, riffraff of consciousness.
— Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
When I can’t fall asleep at night
I picture clouds as black as ink,
One on my left, one on my right,
And try of both at once to think.
When thus directed, right and left,
Attention can be drawn apart
Like cotton wool, and through the cleft
Black sleep seep down into my heart
Till waking sinks beneath its spell.
That’s how it works when all goes well.
But sometimes all does not go right.
Tonight, I fear, is such a night.
The bugs! Into my room they file.
They’ve been attracted by the cloud.
On each bug-face, a stupid smile;
From each bug-throat, a thrumming loud.
They stand and smile and hum and drone,
All lined up straight before my bed,
And seem to sing for me alone,
To pound their song into my head.
And if you saw me as I lay
And listened to that awful song,
All motionless, you’d surely say
I was asleep — but you’d be wrong.
I seem to sleep as deep as death,
Then up I start and gasp for breath,
Eyes bugged, and say, What’s wrong with me?
I feel like I’ve been undersea!
Much longer, and I would have drowned —
And in my head, that thrumming sound.
It echoes still, the bugs’ fell song,
And should it settle in my brain,
That brekekex-ing loud and long,
I know I’d never sleep again.
But in the end it fades away,
That brekekex-ing loud and fell,
Beneath the blows of light of day,
Till silence falls and all is well.
If ever there should come a time
I write my life in epic rhyme,
I know exactly how to start.
The first two lines I know by heart:
Sing, Muse, the tale of one who dared
To brave the bugs and how he fared!
(As for the rest — well, time will tell.
At least I’ll know it started well.)
In saner moods, though, I forswear
such epic fluff and say this prayer:
Protect me, Lord, when I arise.
Keep thou my feet from every sin.
Protect me when I close my eyes.
Don’t let the bugs come filing in.