If you must have insomnia, have it between the hours of
2:30 and 5:30 a.m in May and June in the eastern US. That’s the best, if you can manage.
I’m a connoisseur of this now. I’ve had lots of practice.
Whispers and regrettable things are in the air at those hours
Rising from every rooftop like the last steam from melting frost.
And everyone’s lying to themselves about most things.
It’s in the early hours when you know this, while wishing for sleep.
Starting an hour or two past midnight, when the trucks
On the distant interstate are finally silent, the hum and puzzle of restless
Humanity staggers into fitful, resentful sleep,
I can just make out, faintly, tweets and calls, carried on the cool air
From hundreds, or maybe a couple of thousand feet overhead.
Some nights there are none, but some nights there is a steady feeling of
A dark river moving above, and, sometimes,
The noise is clear enough to tell who’s up there.
Last night, it was a flight of Canada Geese ploughing the air to the north,
To summer feeding ponds in Ontario or Nova Scotia..
I don’t know all the calls, and at night there aren’t a lot of them.
It’s a serious business, after all. Nothing to sing about, flying on
Through the night, thousands of miles.
But there is some calling and response. Just enough to make sure that
The flock is nearby, and safe, that you’re safe,
Headed in the right direction.
Save the energy for the trip.
Do nothing more to let a lone human–
Sitting in the dark far below, looking up past you at the stars,
Smoking too much, wondering what one has to do to get some sleep–
Notice, most of the time, that thousands of you are passing.
Buntings and Baltimore Orioles, scores of streaky brown
House sparrows, swallows and dozens of jewel-toned warblers–
Northern Parulas, Black-throated Greens, Magnolias, and all the rest.
I’ve learned that songbirds migrate at night, in great rivers,
But they do not sing. Not then. Singing comes later.
But for now, they’re moving north to spawning ground, places where fat seeds grow
Plentiful food, easier living, nests and eggs and tending the young.
Singing comes later on a branch in the warm sun, sipping the
Sweet juices of some overripe plums, or tasting the white meat of a succulent nut,
Feeling the thrill of life, the search for a mate, the joy that bubbles up unbidden
When wheeling above a sun-splashed sparkle of green.
I can sense them flowing past, tonight, the antidote for regrets.
There aren’t more than there were a few short weeks ago.
The lushness of summer is growing around us, and some stay.
The rest will be back, full of tales of adventures,
They will sing the story of the great Wheel of life, of the turning
Of the seasons, of renewal that comes after a testing.
I will be waiting, probably still awake. I hope it’s not too long.