NIGHT

GERALD STERN

If only the bell keeps him alive though that is
an odd way of looking at his new life, then
missing an hour because of sleep or guessing the
time and being off sometimes for two hours
won’t be his undoing, not that alone, though it is
hard to attach yourself to a new lover
and learn how she smooths her dress down or listens
to some kind of voice there or to her own silence
which he also listens to hour after hour,
sometimes lying there so long he thinks the cat
has got her tongue or that the electricity
has stopped, as in a flood, though he says to
himself there has to be another a system a
backup generator slow to crank up, he can even
hear the bell slurring, or dragging, a different sound
but reassuring nonetheless, oh more than
that, a gift in his six hour crisis, a melodic
stroking, it is new to him, and hearing it when
it is dark and he is freezing, though pleasantly,
but lying awake, and guessing, he sometimes gets it
right on the hour, but sometimes night has just started,
the drunks are only coming home and he has
four or five more hours, the sound is brief,
forbidding, harsh, indifferent, and he is surprised that
he has guessed wrong, a voice has wounded him, wind
has slammed his window shut or his door but he
just lies on his back and even opens his eyes
in the dark, for that is a life too, and he turns
to one side or the other and hangs onto something,
a chair, a window-sill, and waits for the next
shocking stroke and sometimes he changes pillows.

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