Friday, May 26, 2017

The Monk’s Insomnia by Denis Johnson

The Monk’s Insomnia
The monastery is quiet.  Seconal
drifts down upon it from the moon.
I can see the lights
of the city I came from,
can remember how a boy sets out
like something thrown from the furnace
of a star.  In the conflagration of memory
my people sit on green benches in the park,
terrified, evil, broken by love—
to sit with them inside that invisible fire
of hours day after day while the shadow of the milk
billboard crawled across the street
seemed impossible, but how
was it different from here,
where they have one day they play over
and over as if they think
it is our favorite, and we stay
for our natural lives,
a phrase that conjures up the sun’s
dark ash adrift after ten billion years
of unconsolable burning?  Brother Thomas’
schoolgirl obsession with the cheap
doings of TV starlets breaks
everybody’s heart, and the yellow sap
of one particular race of cactus grows
tragic for the fascination in which
it imprisons Brother Toby—I can’t witness
his slavering and relating how it can be changed
into some unprecedented kind of plastic—
and the monastery refuses
to say where it is taking us.  At night
we hear the trainers from the base
down there, and see them blotting out the stars,
and I stand on the hill and listen, bone-white with desire.
It was love that sent me on the journey,
love that called me home.  But it’s terror
of being just one person—one chance, one set of days—
that keeps me absolutely still and makes me listen
intently to those young men above us
flying in their airplanes in the dark. 


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