This week’s poem, “Insomnia” by Svetlana Cârstean, goes out to all of you who suffer the title’s malady. I know several people who are afflicted at various levels, from occasional nights of sleeplessness to chronic sufferers, all of whom have my sympathies. Cârstean’s poem uses a horse metaphor to take the reader into what it feels like. While there are several poems about insomnia (Billy Collins has three, I believe), what moves me about this one is how it plays off expectations of usual sleep/dream metaphors. The voice of the speaker also carries the poem into the peculiar sense of reality of sleeplessness, where the world appears to be simultaneously blurred and crystal clear.
Insomnia – Svetlana Cârstean
Between yesterday and tomorrow
this mare that doesn’t belong
to me, a mare I don’t comb
She’s a stranger to me,
from somewhere other than this city,
and we share no common memories,
but she’s kept me on her back by force
all the night that’s gone by
and the day not quite ready to come.
The dream spat me out
the way you’d spit out a fruit pit
or an unwanted child.
And I arrived here on this horse’s glossy back
where I slide
as if on mud
but don’t fall.
The night clings to me,
it’s a breeze with little teeth
that sink into my skin and remain there.
The pain’s mild, but it continues on and on.
My heels don’t yet stick in the asphalt,
the trams don’t slice the cold air,
tomorrow’s facts still are ripening,
they’re draped beneath big bed sheets,
exhibits that have never opened.
At night, salamis are removed from the shop window
and stored in a secret location.
At night, the world and its salami slices
are moved elsewhere.
The same with the pastries that are my soul.
I too have to be in another place —my body—an empty carcass
a shop window emptied every evening,
a container no one
absolutely no one
wants to steal.
But the dream spat me out.
between the day that was and the one still to come.
The dream spat me out
like a hard, bitter pit.
Let it be.
It was an ugly dream.
Or I was the ugly one.
Between yesterday and tomorrow is a narrow space
as between the dresser and the wall.
I stand with my back
to yesterday’s sun,
to yesterday’s fear,
face to face with something that doesn’t yet want to open.
On this horse’s slick back until
the trams, the heels, the workers get a green light
and start going.
translation from Romanian by Claudia Serea
p.s. For more poems by this poet check out this issue of Apple Valley Review!