what really happens when you sleep


The Night House

By Billy Collins

Every day the body works in the fields of the world

mending a stone wall

or swinging a sickle through the tall grass –

the grass of civics, the grass of money–

and every night the body curls around itself

and listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises

from the body in the middle of the night,

leaves the trapezoidal bedroom

with its thick, pictureless walls

to sit by herself at the kitchen table

and heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe

and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,

and opens a book on engineering.

Even the conscience awakens

and roams from room to room in the dark,

darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof

in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,

singing a song about the wildness of the sea

until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.

Then, they all will return to the sleeping body

the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

resuming their daily colloquy,

talking to each other or themselves

even through the heat of the long afternoons.

Which is why the body – that house of voices –

sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen

to stare into the distance,

to listen to all its names being called

before bending again to its labor.

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