Practicing in the Sleepingfields by Sasha Steensen

Well past twilight now.

Go your ways in the black ship,
I tell myself as I lay myself down.

Then, I take a walk.

The raccoon
circling the coop
barely looks at me.

The baby skunk
hunting grubs
in the garden
doesn’t lift his tail up.

My cat
with a mouse
in her mouth.

New moon
in the distance.


His armpit.
His belt doesn’t fit.

I’m tired
of myself.

I lie myself down
on the dewy ground.


I prefer the word
how it drives
what rides me
out past the waves
most noteworthy
and leaves me bedridden
on a glassy sea.

This is what it feels like,
the verge of sleep,
lulling up and down
on what we call
the wave’s trough.

There is no feed for me.
No oats.
No grain.
No hay.

out to sea.


Twilight means
the great between,
but there is more to day
than dark and light

more to twi-
than half or twice.

Blue horizon,
what shall we call thee?
Intrinsic light isn’t quite right,
nor is Eigengrau
own gray
dark light.

Paul tells us to fear the dark,
to wear the armor of light.

What’s that, bright
in the dark distance?

The night’s nightcap,
I guess.

I put it atop my windy head
and rest.


I write this in the early morning
ambien ambient daze
and what’s worse,
that gray brain
or having not slept
in the first place?

I ask myself this until the end
of what we call day.
Nightfall, eventide, decline,
in India, cow dust time.

Thou dost sweep men away like a dream.
And the dust from their hooves
and the smoke from our nightfire rises.

I’m too unsure of my place
in the waking day
to find my way
back home with my cows in tow.

In the dream,
the image does its work effortlessly,
but upon waking,
there is no shore to be seen.

What keeps me most afloat:
the echoes of words.


Sitting down to work,
I almost immediately
require a nap.

For seven mornings straight
this nap occurs from 10:52 to 11:08.

This is what the Hebrews called
“the casual sleep.”

The time it takes
to walk ¾ of a mile
elongated and stretched out
above the quiet house.

This morning
I heard a fly buzz
when I fell asleep
and again when I woke.

The nap:
one continuous moment.


Seven sleepers sleep in a cave in Ephesus
for one-hundred-nine-thousand-five-hundred-some days.
Or 309 lunar years, give or take.
The sleepers believe they’ve only slept
a portion of one day.

The “seventh sleeper” means:
sleeping late, being lazy,
or having faith.

The seventh sleeper
also refers
to the edible dormouse
(from the word dormīre)
who hibernates for seven
months a year.
The rodent has seven teats in Italy
but only six elsewhere.

If we were ancient Romans,
we’d trap and fatten
these rodents
in terra cotta pots
until plump enough for roasting.

If we were German,
we’d celebrate
not Ground Hog’s Day,
but Seven Sleeper’s Day.
If wet, it will rain
for seven weeks
without rest.

If we were Syrian, we’d bless
one another with the following words:
May you sleep like the people of Ephesus.

The weather and little rodents both
speak to me.

Dawn over the sea.
The boat’s hull.
The husk of sleep.

If my arms could reach down
and pull you out,
if my mouth could breathe
for thee.


Like the jaw aching to open wide
at the sight of a yawning child,
eyes reading about sleep
grow heavy.

I bow my head to the book.


For the insomniac,
reading is the gentle guillotine.

I want the honey-hearted sleep,
the sleep that takes the shape
of a swarm of bees
alone in my bed
of blue poppies always in bloom,
God breathing the dream into me.


Sleep that fans like a whirlwind
cools like a mist
set me off to sea
by way of the winds released
from goat skins.
Sleep that isn’t sleep exactly
but brings me to the bed
And sleep in which the sleeper dreams
she is sleeping
but can’t, whatever she does,
wake herself up.


Blocking a hole.
Stopping a breach.
Patching a garment.
The boat on a rough sea,
the olive tree,
the bed upon which Penelope sleeps.


I know I slept.
I have a pain
in my neck,
a dry eye
that aches
to open
and an
unfinished book
by my bed.

Late May.

My fifteenth wedding anniversary.

There are children between him and me
and we roll out the bed and ready them.


Until my girl was a year old,
she barely slept. She
only slept
in someone’s arms or
in her babyswing.

When she finally learned to sleep
in her crib, I would wake
on my floormat where I slept
when I couldn’t sleep
wondering why
she wasn’t crying.

I would worry that perhaps
she had died in her sleep,
but then I would tell myself,
go back to sleep
because if she’s dead,
grief will prevent you
from ever sleeping again.


The vigil in hypervigilant:

rising to someone who sleeps
like a dream or seems asleep
even upon waking, the misty
eyes, the talk that is itself
the words of one asleep
who assumes I know the scene
of whatever dream he’s still
half dreaming.

And rising to someone
who, two hours asleep,
reaches a delta,
opens her eyes and screams.
Knowing its better to be witness
to night terrors, and not speak,
I look into her open eyes
but she doesn’t see me.
I whisper, please, quietly,
and immediately
she becomes a broody hen
who won’t let me in
to fetch the egg
and calm the wind.

And rising to someone
whose mouth is too small
to get the air she needs,
someone whose tonsillectomy
made space where none existed
but still,
her weighty breath finds me,
like a leaf vein, its stem,
restless in my own bed.

And rising to other creatures
who sleep standing up
who sleep on a giant spool
under the full moon
who sleep roosting in the rafters
who sleep under an infrared light
until they feather out
who sleep on a log
under an artificial sun
scheduled to go on
each morning
at 6:43
who hunt mice instead of sleep
who ravage my flock instead of sleep
who chirp in their cricket keeper
until they become the lizard’s dinner.

I cannot sleep
unless / because
I hear my offspring.

Meanwhile, we have four nests
around the house,
some with babies,
some with eggs,
some without:

2 Magpie
1 Robin
1 Finch with a cuckoo egg
upon which the mamabird
sleeps unknowingly

until she flies away
leaving all the eggs



When I can’t sleep
I long to live
somewhere other
than here
even the weeds
make noise
as they sleep.

where people
at night
like me.

When I can’t sleep
and I have an idea
I get up and go to my computer
which needs awakened
from its deep sleep.
I frantically whip
the mouse around.
I bring my entire palm down
on the keys.

Eventually, the computer
wakes reluctantly
and accepts my idea.

When I can’t sleep,
I recite the prayer
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to
          make. remake.

for someone already held gently
in the tender arms of sleep and leave.


The urn
in nocturnal
is also
a turn.

By which I mean,
sleep is one-sixteenth part death.

It’s death’s doorknob, locked
from the inside out.

I am on my knees
poking at the hole
with the tiniest of
until the click
wakes me.

Our belief that we can be happy
is first formed during sleep.
When we wake and find
that we’ve merely been dreaming
we fall to our knees in misery.

Sleep, in which we practice many things, among them:
birthing, forgetting, writing, leaving, sewing,
working, waking, but most of all, dying.

Gloaming is a noun
that sounds like a verb.
Sleep is a thing we learn
by doing.

Which means, when death comes to me,
I will be exceedingly
bad at it.


The gods wanted to stay in bed forever
so they gave us each
a mass of souls,
only one of which sleeps.
The rest do the gods’ work
all the day and all the night long.

Like Telemachus,
wrapped in a sheep fleece,
I do the work of worry.

The sea and sleep
are far from me
and the prairie near.
I may be deep in error
and as brief as an atom,
but worry and hope both
belong to expectancy.

Sleep’s root,
deep like a weed,
is not in this world.

In the dark night
I bend down
and feel around
for the thistle spreading
chocking out
all else.

I pull
as close
to the ground
as I can.

I rend.


I call my creatures
in for the night.
Sasha Steensen is the author of four books of poetry, most recently House of Deer (Fence Books) Gatherest (Ahsahta Press). A recent essay,  Openings: Into Our Vertical Cosmos, can be read at Essay Press.  She teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Colorado State University.  She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she tends children, goats, chickens, a bearded dragon, a barn cat and a standard poodle.