Maurice Manning

Sleep
March 9, 2014 Manning Maurice

Sleep

 

There is a room, and inside the room

two men are sitting side

by side in a pair of stuffed chairs.

I see the backs of the chairs, but a slip

of light beneath them lets me see

four heavy shoes in the front

and two heads, one bald and one gray, above.

I believe they are serious motionless men,

facing a wall with a small window.

One could be my great-grandfather,

dead for seventy years, and the other

could be his father who voted both times

for Lincoln.  A window, a single pane

inside a hinged frame, is swung

open in a high up corner

of the wall, and a plank of level light

is reaching through the square.  The room

is a sizable room, and I have entered

from another room—perhaps I’m still

a figure standing in the doorway.

I don’t remember everything,

but I am breathing there and the room

is warm from an old iron stove

whose pipe runs crookedly

through another wall.  In front of the men

is a table, maybe made from a crate.

That is where, I remember now, I left

the book I had been reading, and now

I see it—Progress?—is the one-word

question running down its spine.

The men are staring at the book,

and I suppose they’ve wondered, too,

because they made the room and the window;

in the hill behind the house they dug

the root cellar and lined it with stone.

The window is high to catch the light

as soon as the sun comes over the hill,

and the house is there because of the hill.

Beside the house is a bottom patch—

my father plowed it with a mule.

And by these signs is how I know

I’ve been asleep.  I’ve been to the room

with two old men inside, and a stove,

and a book; and a light, before it tilts

to flood the room, is still a stream

trickling through the window,

and the window, God knows why, is swung

into the room like an open gate.

The room of the time before my time

was hewn and hammered together from sleep;

but a glimpse of some other time was left.

I saw it from the doorway where

I stood as solemn as a tree,

as if I were growing in the dream.

Maurice Manning’s most recent book of poems is One Man’s Dark (Copper Canyon, 2017).