Barbara Hamby
Ode to Knots, Noise, Waking Up at Three, and Falling Asleep Reading to My Id

Why does everything seems so impossible

            in the middle of the night? I wake up at three

with my mind in a knot, and I might as well be Incan,

             the ancient people of Peru, whose language

was not written in characters like the Chinese

            or letters like the Greeks and Romans or even runes

like the Celts, but knots on a string, so maybe when the Incans

            woke up at three, they could feel their knots,

whereas all I can do is review my worries or recite the poems

            I’ve memorized, a couple of sonnets by Shakespeare

and Donne, Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is a man” speech

            and all the lyrics to Highway 61 Revisited, my favorite being

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” because when the lights

            are out you might as well be lost in the rain in Juarez,

and sometimes I forget how uncooperative the material world

            can be, though at moments all the pieces fit

like a Byzantine mosaic, which I’m thinking about now

            because I’m going to Ravenna tomorrow,

and I can’t sleep because the Piazza Sant’Ambrogio,

            which is right outside my bedroom window,

has become a late night hangout for braying drunks—God,

            the lungs on those people—and I can’t help but think

of all my mistakes as they line up like the bloody crucifixions

            I’ve been seeing in Italy this spring,

though the sky has been a glorious Leonardo blue, and the names

            of the artists, how could you not be great with a name

like Duccio di Buoninsegna, and you’d have to go a long way

            to find a better name than Dosso Dossi, so toss and turn

as I may, it is not Eastertime, but the beginning of June,                                                      

            and it was Luis Buňuel who said, Thank God

I’m an atheist, though my Bulgarian student Polina

            says that God is in other people, and it’s hard

not to believe in other people since there are so many of them,

            their screams bouncing off the Renaissance walls

of Sant’Ambrogio and into my window, and my train leaves

            at 7:30, and what if my mother has a stroke,

and there’s no one there to help her, and all my cats line up

            and list my betrayals: Annabelle, Sylvia Wilberforce,

Little Latin Loopy Lulu, and Bucky, aka, Mr. Suit Pants,

            Mr. Crazy Bacon, Mr. Pretty Paws, and I hope

he’s in a paradise where lost tails are sewn back on

            and torn ears mended, because I’ve had it up to here

with the everyday scarring, the laundry, the dust, so I might as well

            be asleep and dreaming of the tomb of Galla Placidia in Ravenna,

the night sky made of thousands of pieces of colored tesserae,

            or facing a tidal wave in a South American town                             

or riding a bus when a fat man in whitey-tighties and a black

            T-shirt gets on and starts shooting, blood flying

everywhere, but soon he’s bored by the mayhem and sits down

            beside me and asks what I am doing. Moving to keep

his bloody arm away from my white dress, I say, “Reading

            a newspaper.” “What’s that?” he asks. “It’s where

you read about what happened the day before.” “Read,”

            he says, and so I tell him about all the terrible

things people did yesterday in buses all over the world.

Found In Volume 41, No. 03
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Barbara Hamby
About the Author

Barbara Hamby's sixth book of poems, Bird Odyssey, will be published in Spring 2018 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, which also published her last book On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Yale Review. She has also edited an anthology of poems, Seriously Funny (Georgia, 2009), with her husband David Kirby. She teaches at Florida State University where she is Distinguished University Scholar.