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  • Writer's pictureErin Brown

POETRY | Awake

"Woke," they say,

And the word cuts out from their mouths.

Disdain on a television tongue,

Like blood.

They mutter it,

syllables graceless as a crowded peak hour sidewalk.

As though there is some heresy in being awake on the battlefield called living.


And they say it as though there is a prize for

Sleepwalking your way into the

Paths of oncoming trains.

I speak for no other.

But my own lucidity stings.

I am awake.

A brain full of wild bees disturbed from their hive.

But do you think


That I don't long for sleep?

For the stillness and softness

Of the night in which I don't dream or move?

What kingdom would I not give

For my mind not to leave me,

before this body is full done with living and before I know peace as a pattern.

There is no lover more perfect

Than a cool midnight passed between peaceful sheets of uninterrupted rest.

I don't dream.

Or perhaps it is just I don't go looking for them anymore.

But once, when I did,

All I asked was to be a bookmark

Between the second-hand-Le Carrè-novel,


Page hands of someone I loved.

The screen of my mind, off. The neon violence, dimmed to nothing.

In dreams I laid over his heartbeat

Without shifting.

Suspended, held, messy and enough,

Like my body was a cashmere jumper fallen messily over the arm of the chair opposite a bed we bought and unmade together.

Instead, here, now, I am awake.

A shard of iridescent glass reflecting so much I can't unsee.

And for the life of me,

How I want to scream at the ones who jeer at my open eyes.

Is this what he meant, to rage,

Rage against the dying of the light?

Does the news not bite you too?

Is every child not a child?

Every death is a death no matter who dies it, and the death of what matters

Steals something precious from the vault in us all.


How can a body feel this wrongness everyday,

And smirk that being awake to injustice, is the crime?

All of it rushes,


into my hands every day.

Headlines like gunshot victims

Being shunted through emergency room doors.

Human kindness is a patient with a paramedic pumping hard on its chest.

Are we too used to it now?

The blood?

Are you?

I'm not. I can't manufacture the numbness.

Reality is cold.

It burns like early morning ice water in my palms,

demanding my alertness.

I cannot look away.

Can't pretend I don't sense the flood,

the oncoming, shattered wash of debris.

The roar of tear-wet treasures under heaven, that Humanity once held dear.

I am awake. So awake.

Hope is unconscious, exhausted in the corner,

and I feel the wind on the the whites of my eyes.

You say "Woke" as a judgement,

But I clench my fists with how much I do not want your sleep.

It is not sleep, what you do.

You are just people,

Sometimes people I love,

Running with scissors and your eyes closed.

You do not want to know about the fire river spilling down the mountainside.

Anxiety skitters.

We drill and drill at the mountain's bones

Until one day it decides it is done with the torture.

We close our eyes and yell at the ash and magma of the world we built,

As though our scoffs at each other are the levees that will save us.

"Woke," you say.

As though you could ever hate not being able to switch off as much as I do.

To be woke is to be awake and unable look away,

Knowing that the intruder is barging, gun cocked and teeth bared, at the door of your house.

Would you rather be tucked warmly into your ignorance when he comes, would you?

Anger curdles.

I wasn't always like this. I wish you knew me then.

Hound of Heaven,

Sniffing around the 11:00pm vandalised bus stop of my thoughts.

I wonder how long is left now for us, little fox.

If somewhere, there is a great clock,

A breath away

From striking the hour and measuring the end of our kind?

I wonder how long is left

In the halls of my own heart.

I sit, wandering myself like the empty rooms of a palace.

Wine glass here, crystal on a mantle.

Unspoken love there like an unlit chandelier gathering dust over a long dining table,

While the world ends outside.

How long is left?

How long is left for someone to ask me things in the morning?


If I could sleep and be still,

If I could be awake and look forward to what I saw,

If I dream again just once before I go,

It will be of someone to ask me questions in the morning.

Words made to ripple once and be gone like native songs between trees

Before two birds fly home to the same nest:

"Do you want tea?" He'll say.

A smile on my hairline before vanishing like

the breeze between our bed-linen,

out to dry.

"I've made your tea."

© Erin Brown, 2023


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