Getting to Sleep
This poem comes from Kendrick Smithyman's cunningly-titled 1978 collection Dwarf with a Billiard Cue. In 1995 a very sprightly Allen Curnow read it at a memorial service for Smithyman; I'm posting it here as a sort of charm for a friend who has been suffering from insomnia. I actually think I saw a Siamese cat on a leash on Orewa Beach once...
GETTING TO SLEEP
Sleep, make your compacts,
versions of how to cope
with your antiquity, its conflicts
with whatever your situation is.
There is an art in dreaming well;
therapy, in practising at arts.
That much I heard somewhere, thought it
over, dozy in a hot pool at Waiwera.
Steaming clouds, like dreams among hibiscus.
Owls called beyond, lights’ circles
blurring dropped rumoured mortality
phrase by phrase, like dropping the one
stone in the one pool, resonant.
Not dreams’ fantastics or grotesques
you find hard for treaty.
The other night I dreamt solid,
three dimensional, with colour, tonality,
texture: a chapel, seen through fieldglasses.
Its plan octagonal, starshaped;
its walls cream, enormous timber roofing
dark-brown as almost black,
folded and pleated. At the star-points
vertical planks met the roof.
Everything wooden was carved
to tell: a Maori Adam, a Maori Eve
in a Maori garden, falling. A Michael
who was Maori wrestled a taniwha.
A bearded Maori Father watched,
approving the outcome.
And so on, a Creation wholly reasonable.
Whereas, on the Orewa beach front
in that same evening a middleaged couple
followed a Siamese cat on a lead –
where the cat went, they went, watched
by a young camel with a reddish-brown coat
grazing near the conveniences.
The camel was startled from time to time
by cough of seal, outcry
of sea elephant, at Marineland.
Then I was not easy in myself
ailing of some antique state
or of offence, unnamed, to reason.