It seems that sleep is denied to all
but mammals. The heavy-lidded lizard,
though brisk on a sun-fired rock, slows
in time with the drop in temperature.
When cold enough, he shuts down.
Hibernation immobilizes his brain,
but there are no rapid eye-movements,
no parade of nocturnal images.
Neither dreams of public nakedness
nor feasts of giant raspberries
disturb the torpor of his slumber.
There is nothing that we would call sleep.

Where, then, is the reptilian dream?
To find the primeval reverie
we must journey back through the hindbrain
down the dark track of the spinal cord
to the steaming morning of our being,
the coal-bearing swamp of yesteræon.

There the creeping belly plates
ring like bronze on the gilded rocks.
Each narrow skull is a cauldron of impulses,
and jeweled scales move across the backdrop
like the orchestrated ripple of a flock of starlings.
Each point in the firmament spins
a shining thread to every grain of the earth,
and each gorgeous moment bears its own grand music
towards its imminent destruction.

What, then, did we trade
to get our nightly masquerade?
Our ancient notochord grew frontally,
bulbed, divided, and then divided once again,
giving rise to all our ordered pairs,
this dance of self and other, subject and object,
birth and death, heaven and earth, the seer and the seen.
You and I must view from the proscenium
that perfect serpent coiled upon the stage.

May 5, 1997

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