Middle Night

by Christopher Raley

 

i.

I don’t know why the lone bird sings

in the middle night where street-lit trees

don’t even whisper.  They stand as if posing

 

in secret.  Other’s eyes are drawn to other limbs

on faintly reflective bed sheets,

and window shades pull for a close in

 

of dimly heard reckonings: that bird

when vibrations have stilled on the air

and not even cars have strength to sigh.

 

Its full throated tune is a single ripple

from a drop, again, then again.  For no reason,

again, then again, and only one listening.

 

ii.

Red molten eye breathes in at the night,

swells its iris and collapses out a veil.

The bird sings, building his sermon

 

to the slow irregular pulse.  His cadence

starts from a simple warbled cluster, grows

up and down the scale, calling higher,

 

calling louder.  What time must it be

when even the crickets have stopped

competing?  They’ve long laid their souls

 

in minor thickets of drought-year grass.

Perhaps the foul odor, faint and trailing

curls of smoke that dissipate in what

 

light remains to molecules it claims—

perhaps even in that smallest guise

it pursues them deeply still, a sleep of

 

dreaming fear.  But the bird still sings

and wonders at each red’s disappearance:

will this be its final declaration against dawn?

 

iii.

Keys in the dark click and stumble.

There are no fair words for this.

I’m just a hired hand sneaking out of bed

 

when her breathing is deep and her dreaming

is regular.  The mind that rejects me for life

is the mind that welcomes me this death,

 

this tired, chemical repose between lines on paper

or in the blue shineless light of screen.

It’s selfish, this night, this bird, this eye.

 

It’s not bright to prop a burning cigar

on a box of matches, and the back deck

plays host to all I have chosen not to say.

 

Suddenly a baby cries from the house next door.

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