by Jeff Oaks

My mother says that waking up in the middle of the night is normal “after a certain age,” and that she suffers from it too. My immediate sense is that it’s probably a mixture of certain biological changes coupled with a few psychological ones (many more things on my mind these days!) coupled with the fact that my bedroom faces the street where at 2/2:30 am drunks often stumble out into their cars, talking too loudly, selfishly, getting into arguments with other drunks. I have recently gotten a humidifier whose white noise seems to have helped; plus, it’s winter and the number of drunks out late has shrunk.

The way I handled this waking up and not being able to sleep was to write during it. I figured: Why not use it if I’m going to be forced to endure it? All of last year, in which my mother’s health declined, my sense of mortality reawakened, my dog and I bonded, and I tried to learn to love the little whats of the world, I mostly wrote between two am and four am. I learned to lean into the silences, the drunks, the strange noises (there’s one right now going on, something that sounded like the street cleaner going through the nearby intersection, although why at 4am that should happen is beyond me).

It is a little like being caught in a closet in a living room of a house of strangers. I listen to noises and try to intuit or imagine the party going on, the relationships happening simply by the sounds. I’m used to that, since I was always the littlest person in the family for a long time. I was the one who hid under the table, who eavesdropped while sitting on the stairs: which is where I found out Santa was really my parents, as well as where I listened to my parents fight when my father came home drunk at 2 am, when the American Legion closed.

Two am is a very rich time, in other words, for me. Full of drama, fear, curiosity, and excitement. If I write something–and I have already written today’s draft of a poem and now this entry–then I feel I can get up, use the bathroom, throw on yesterday’s clothes, and walk the dog around the corner so he can pee. There, in a little patch of grass he likes in an alley nearby, in a little shadow-space between houses, I get to look up at the stars, which appear mysterious and wild, now that the whole city is quiet around me.

I don’t even know half their names. Horse-star, The Wanderer, Old Love, Red Father, Bright Mother, Thirst, Hunger, The Big Cup, The Little Cup, the Cursor.