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A small crack in the egg-smooth walls of sleep, and I can sense a day circulating around me. Thin air holds images: a man sweeping trodden debris of dream off city sidewalk one hour before any pedestrian footfall. Shy birds made of confusion and tissue paper. Dissipating, those intent silent seconds when one listens in vain to pull full sentences from the soft dinner-party murmur of dreams and reality. To sort the sounds of the real bedroom from the mingling sounds of the Protean. The world opens up between my eyelids, and my eyelids open onto white ceiling or white wall.
A breath-filled space where I keep who I am.
This is the absence to watch with wonder--I can't learn such blankness, can't buy it or excavate it from the day's events no matter how I dig, such blankness is already vanishing as I begin reflexively to find myself. I am: the unmarked margin of a book. A faint vibration. The sound of something far away. I am: a radio tuned to soft inchoate static. A tingling at the tips. I am: this hand, curled like a fern.
I used to believe that the first thing I saw when I woke up would fate my entire day. This conviction is founded on the fact that a single thing is almost impossible to find, is therefore magical. Everything in the world of the woken comes in twos or threes, more often in unintelligible stampedes. But open reviving eyes onto a chair, and for a few hushed seconds it will be the only object within the borders of consciousness. Everything that happens afterwards is a thin layer of paint around that one initial thing, that indelible form big enough to fill an entire mind. For the sake of this theory, I would go to sleep facing my favorite books, propping them up on the wall next to me, setting favorite stuffed animals on the night table. Invariably, I woke up looking at something ordinary--a pillow, a cup.
Why is it that we never wake up in the same position in which we went to sleep? What things does our body do when we are otherwise occupied? I am told that I kick. I am told that I am a "heavy breather." I have been known to snore. Sometimes I talk in my sleep, and when I do I am told that I say strange things, like "vampire werewolf ghost fire" over and over, or I talk about elements of the periodic table as though they were close personal friends.
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There is the sound of daylight, and the whisper of condensation. Of invisible moisture in the air, congregation of wet sheen. Eyelashes dewy with sleep.
I trawl myself for identity.
Sometimes the room is familiar. Sometimes I must start from childhood and work my mind through bedroom after bedroom, bedrooms in the homes of grandparents, bedrooms slept in just once while visiting friends, bedrooms I've only imagined. I turn my head, expecting to see Garfield-print sheets stretched to the edge of the bed--but that was second grade, and that was some time ago. With this minor epiphany, the furniture hurries back to its normal position, the clothes lengthen. The books grow thicker and their dog-eared pages unfold, creases smooth out. An outdated identity, cut from nocturnal fabric, dissolves unseen.
Each night's sleep is a graceful disturbance, a drowsy force that scatters self like skittish pigeons in a park. The stuff of myth. Isis gathering fragments of Osiris buried all over Egypt. All the king's horses and all the king's men, down on their hands and knees, collecting fragments of eggshell.
How does one guard against mistakes? Against a piece from an earlier self making its way into the mending, against a memory I love being left out? I might wake up joined to the wings of a moth--or, worse, the self-esteem of a high school freshman.
Past and present chase each other around like new puppies. The sun orbits the earth, changes its mind, is orbited instead.
I think that I should get up to let the dog outside, then realize the dog is hundreds of miles away. I think I should shower, then remember that I already have. I brush these things aside, but what if I let them stay? The world in which I woke might include a terrier pawing at the screen-door, or maybe a dragon.
My lungs are two smooth pistons in a new machine.
This is the skeletal frame of my mind, the circulatory system. The processes of thought start up with a hum, though they have nothing to occupy them. Thoughts think themselves. I do not put on my glasses, I let the bedside things stay fuzzy, looking like desert rockpiles and plateaus from Arizona postcards. Above my head, though I am too myopic to see them, are five holes in the drywall the size of nickels or quarters. They are monuments to the five times I have tried to drill a hanging lightbulb over my bed.
I have woken up in other mattresses, with other objects at their flanks. Sixth grade, in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the last time that my bedroom was a child's bedroom. I kept stuffed tigers on the right-side pillow, blueberry-scented lip gloss and glitter on the nightstand. The next year, stuffed animals became an embarrassment, and the tigers went into a closet and then into a cardboard box. In the dark, drowsing in smell of mothballs and lint, they dream about a polyester jungle.
A time-lapse video of a poppy unfurling, watched weeks ago in a nature documentary and remembered in metaphor. A crumple of bright color, deliberate like paper. The petals unfold, neat and trim as a parent opening a Christmas present. A finger slipped beneath a crisp, smooth flap of wrapping paper and slid to the side: the quiet fingers of the sunlight. Serenity in a shifting shape.
In my mind, a map of weather systems: warm currents weave, a spiral of cloud curls like a thought.
I have woken up on motel beds with the ribcage forms of springs visible through the thin sheets and the thin padding of a thin mattress. Beds where weary metal spirals let out purgatory groans with every slight movement, aching from a night of heavy work. Circular shapes pressed into my back. Motel bedding is stratified: too-starched sheets on the innermost level, a layer of balling pastel blanket, a layer of synthetic velveteen, and a motel-colored quilt in mauve or cornflower blue. In a motel on the Baja peninsula, thirty-eight hours from home by cramped, crowded car, I opened foggy eyes. I filled and drank a glass of tap water, forgetting where I was.
I burrow my feet into cotton comforter--a smooth, clean movement like a letter sliding into an envelope. The feeling is an electric fire which starts at the feet and climbs a tree of nerves to reach the brain.
The strange feeling that comes with waking up before your alarm.
I have woken up late on Sunday mornings, to the sound of breakfast downstairs. Bacon stuttered in the frying pan. My father pulled frozen apple turnovers from a box, put them on a flat sheet of metal that went into the oven and came back out ten minutes later, too hot to touch. And I love to stay in bed and I hate to get up because once they've seen you awake you can't go back until nighttime--but the body is a gullible thing and responds blindly to the insistent sounds and smells of cooking food. So I would lay stubbornly as long as I could, but that was never very long.
Twenty butterflies in a montage sequence, eating their way through glossy cocoons. They only come out when the time is right. If you open a cocoon too early, you will see wings like used Kleenex: crumpled, wet, useless. Weak, temporary things flirting with disintegration. Earlier still and you find a half-real dream-form of a butterfly: unmade, unfamiliar shape with shiny carapace. The right time makes all the difference.
When I do not have a boyfriend, I have books in my bed. I like to wake up next to something.
I used to date the morning DJ at my college radio station, he got up at 6:30 a.m. every weekday. I watched him wake through incredulous eyes soggy with sleep.
He rolls onto his side and turns off the alarm. Then lies completely still for about a dozen breaths, until you begin to think that perhaps he has drifted back to sleep. You watch his chest rise and fall, wavelike, and grow sinkingly sleepy and warm against your will. And just as you begin to prepare yourself for movement, so that you can wake him up, so that he'll be in the studio on time and not leave the early-morning commuters blaring silence through their sound systems, he roars, rolls out of bed, and stands up--completely awake. Announces "it's tan jeans day," and heads to his closet. At this point in your own waking process you can barely make a fist and you realize that, as far as getting up goes, he is a true artisan, one of the geniuses of the trade. He tosses a pair of jeans onto his bed, over the capital S of your body. When his back is turned and he is busy buttoning cuffs, buckling belts, you grin into the pillow. The light coming through slits of Venetian blind is blue, and getting brighter every second.
Light through the window, poking its bright muzzle into every corner and over every edge. I cannot see the weather, the trees. There is no weather until I get up. I will make the day when I throw off the covers and go to the window.
I close my eyes and run my mind over the world as I imagine it.
Muffins yawning, rising in groups of six or eight from greased tin pans. Soon to be eaten, not yet on a plate. And a Greek chorus of knives scraping butter over toast, clatter and a crumbling crunch come with the bite. The drippings of coffee and first hiss of steam. Ten million alarm clocks going off in near-unison (five million snooze buttons being pressed). All the furniture preparing to work, all the mattresses preparing to rest. And the rush of a gazillion oxygen molecules into many billions of lungs.
You've got to groan when you stretch, you've got to make some sort of noise. You've got to stretch your voice taut, stretch your arms to the side and top like a child's drawing of a sun extending crayon rays of light.
Miraculous to know that you still work.
And weather is stretching over the window-scape, some sort of weather--clouds or a blue sky pulled tight over black-bound arpeggios of stars. I get up and go to the window, rumpled with sleep, a wrung sponge dripping lazy dreams.
The weather is bright.