‘Staying Awake’, by Robert Cording

I’ve spent one third of my life asleep,
I read, and so I considered
how the drag and suck of Everyday
conspires against my waking—
jobs, meetings, grocery shopping,
house repairs and mortgages.

After I’d added on the dread of everything
I should have done but didn’t, or did,
and had things turn out the very way
I’d feared, I just wanted to lie back
and dream, but I made myself sit up
in my chair, which brought to mind

my grandmother who liked to tell me
at family dinners, if I didn’t sit up
straight, I’d become a hunch-back
as an old man, and now I was one,
at least in part, my shoulders slumping
forward, too heavy to hold up.

By then I was living in the past,
those dinners when all my grandparents
were alive, and my great-grandparents
on my mother’s side and all my aunts
and uncles. I was saying their names—
Anna, Henry, Eleanor, Emma, George—

when, of course, I fell asleep and dreamed
that someone was whispering,
Wake up! Wake up! in a room
that the afternoon sun had warmed,
but now was running out of light.
And still I did not wake up.

– Robert Cording, ‘Staying Awake’, in Walking with Ruskin: Poems (Fort Lee: Cavankerry, 2010), 7–8.

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