"It’s hard to be a city at night, sleeping along this big river. So much wakes you from slumber ... "
By Larry Smith
It’s hard to be a city at night, sleeping along this big river. So much wakes you from slumber—mill whistles, sirens, dogs barking, people falling up and down stairs, babies crying to be fed or changed, couples in bedrooms or cars making loud love. When it comes down to it, I wake even when doors slam and when people shout too loud and long.
Oh, I still watch over you—mother and father to a tribe awake or asleep. And yes, I worry about floods and fires, heart attacks, and car accidents. I’m also there for all births and deaths. I count you all as precious, though I do accept nature’s course—Flow like a river, open like a sky./ Feed the heart, yet bow the head.
Sometimes in night’s quiet middle, I dream of fish flying about the room, trains climbing up my back and arms, skirts twirling, golden hair falling over milky breasts—Yes, I’m alive! And sometimes nightmare phantoms swirl in mill light, then creep along streets to peep into windows, carrying guns and knives.
In one dream, our mill rolls up like a newspaper then drifts away downriver. We all stand mute like at the end of a long movie. As it fades to darkness, I jerk myself awake, then lie there ‘till breathing softens and I reach over again to turn on the lights.
I rise to the rich smell of coffee being brewed in houses, the sounds of people showering, dressing for work, getting kids off to schools, maybe saying a few silent prayers for self and others. All of us meeting the day, all of us working through our dreams.
Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer and biographer of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Patchen. His most recent work is Thoreau’s Lost Journal: Poems and Tu Fu Comes to America. He’s a professor emeritus of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and director of Bottom Dog Press. He and his wife live along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.