The Sleep Of Reason by Stephen Whitaker

Their demons nightly cower in cold corners.
Through the thicket of a dream, a Nosferatu
creep, a groan as that of distant pipes.
The steady rise and fall of chests

gives insane rhythm to the clock that stopped.
An easeful sleep betrayed at source by matted
hair, by sudden twitch;  a landscape of
the lost is here tonight.

The likeness of our breathing melds:
the echo-chamber of our hearts
pauses in the moving dark.  And I hear,
as somewhere china cups are placed with care

on garden walls, the screaming, wind-borne choirs,
the muffled thud of distant war. The tenements
of clay:  strata of bone and blood-brown rag,
unfurled ragged flags, an opening above

their metalled heads to sky and sky beyond,
the quickening mouse in a Tommy’s
open palm.  Perhaps I know these things.
They tell me things.

I saw them on lines of stretchers at Bethune,
ironic phalanxes in neatish rows
as though in church, as though the grave.
Most supine, compliant; others crossed themselves.

Others begged a little water, found, perhaps,
their God, their mother, in the backlit
prism of a glass. I muttered words
unheard by them, a mother to the muffled womb.

Perhaps I gave them comfort.
Perhaps I made them think of home
as piece by turgid piece I rearranged
a vision skewed like broken glass, fit, indeed,

to face the purlieus of temporary peace.
I gave a ministry of faith as much as care,
as now I yield a silent ministry
in musty, echoing halls.

The night light throws no more
than burnished gold on starchy sheets;
the faces grey as flinty sea and half-concealed
in shadow.

The wheezy rattle of a lung,
a gout of blood now darker still against
the cloth, a revenant for one
who sailed, tubercular, for France.

I lay a cloth upon his brow,
and, in an attitude of well-wrought peace, he turns, and sleeps.