Three Poems – Brendan Constantine


“What hath night to do with sleep?”

I can tell when you're having nightmares; 
your breath changes, gets louder, you 
shift your feet. Sometimes a bird will hit 
the window, the lights turn themselves 
on. Every so often an astronaut knocks 
at the bedroom door, asks to come in.
I always refuse but gratefully. I know he 
wouldn't be there unless you needed me 
to rub your neck again, your shoulders, 
say softly, It's OK, I'm here. You're safe. 
No one expects you to float or discover 
life on Venus. Sleep. Sleep. I’ve learned 
most of the signs, but I imagine there'll 
always be new ones. Take last night, you 
were pretty quiet, no kicking. If I hadn’t
had a nightmare myself, hadn’t wakened
to catch your nightgown pacing the room 
without you, I'd never have known. I put 
my palm on your hip, up, up. The line 
in your back is like the wake of a spoon 
through tea. I stirred you like that, in half 
circles, until you eased, until there wasn't 
a sound from our picture on the wall.

The Guest Speaker

said our hearts are not bird’s nests 
or loaded guns. At least they don’t
have to be for us to understand
them. For years I knew mine was 
actually a toy monkey wrapped in a 
prayer rug. That’s why it pounded so, 
why its pounding was muffled. Alas, 
my heart is, always has been, what 
my doctor said it was: 12 ounces 
of muscle, flexing 70 to 80 times 
per minute without motive, fast-
ened between my lungs in a space
unmusically named the Pericardial 
Cavity; deaf, preoccupied, miraculous
without anyone noticing it’s the size 
of my clenched fist, a Chinese pear, 
a pocket dictionary. 
                               The speaker 
offered many examples of Eastern 
poetry (Tu Fu’s forests, Basho’s 
frog) where the phenomenal world 
is phenomenal enough. Some objected
to this & there was shouting during 
the Q&A: metaphor vs. medicine. 
I tried to defend my dinky monkey. 
Failed. Later, in my room, I got so 
quiet I could hear blood. Sounds like 
blood, I said, to no one, drowning
for a moment its constant Shhhhh, 
so often mistaken for an ocean 
or a freeway, the steady applause 
while God looks at his notes.


Did you ever see someone lie to an animal?
Ever watch someone speak casually to a dog 
and outright lie? Better yet, has anyone put 
a cat on the phone with you, so you could lie;
tell the cat how someday it’ll come for a visit? 
How about all that air on the other end, 
the cottony sounds, creak of plastic, the voice 
of the other person speaking to their pet 
more gently than they ever spoke to you —
Can you say hello? What happens to all
our small talk, those hours of testimony 
witnessed by birds, hamsters, goldfish, 
most of it false but on the record anyway? 
Somewhere inside them, in a library meant 
for light and water, for dreams of running, 
our noises take up precious space. What 
instinct, what wild favor do we displace 
in there? Is that what it means to be tamed, 
to have a jungle talked out of you?

About Brendan Constantine

Poet based in Los Angeles. Most recent collections are 'Birthday Girl With Possum' (2011 Write Bloody Publishing) and 'Calamity Joe' (2012 Red Hen Press). View all posts by Brendan Constantine

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