What She Thinks About When Sleep Eludes Her

by Suzanne Thurman

I. Helen Keller Eyes

[Helen Keller] had both eyes surgically removed and replaced with glass . . . .
[H]er sparkling blue prosthetic eyes were admired for their living beauty and humane depth.
                                                                                                                                                —Cynthia Ozick

Tonight it is his pillow that sparks her interest,
the way it has been smashed flat in the middle
after years of cradling his head. That’s the way
she feels now after nine years of staring
at his cranium, flattened

by a man who will not turn around
and look her in the face, as if he fears
what he will find deep in the hollows of her eyes.
Even she’s unsure what’s hidden there,
a dream spark that has managed to survive,

a sliver of rebellion. Or perhaps her eyes are empty,
double blinded imitations grotesque in their mimicry.
She is what she is not. The logic seems so clear
in the unfolding symmetry of midnight that she throws
her questions to the stars and watches as the moon

glides brilliant in an arc of unbelief.

II. The Moon Tree

“The Moon Tree was grown from seed that journeyed to the moon and back
aboard Apollo 14 during the period of January 31 – February 9, 1971.”
                                    —sign at Helen Keller’s birthplace, Tuscumbia, Alabama

A loblolly pine, tall and spindly, unremarkable
in its daytime guise. But oh, she thinks, how splendid
it appears at night when shedding
awkward skin it becomes the moon tree
that its journey first envisioned: luminous pine needles,
shimmering bark, pine cones glowing
in a midnight carnival of effervescence.
It feels as if the tree’s on fire, cascading light so bright
that even she can see each particle and crashing wave
transform the branches into burning tongues of wisdom.
She steps into the nimbus and the molten beams pass
through the prism of her eyes to paint a rainbow
of desire across the ancient sky, a signpost
for the sightless who travel without map
or compass, a refuge for the transient souls
suspended in the twilight of the universe.

III. Lunar Siren

And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
                                                                                                                          —John 1: 5

Light or dark, it’s all the same to her,
she lives between the shades of dawn and dusk
in murky solitude. It wasn’t always so
and she remembers when the world
divided into black and white and she floated
silently between the two, anchored by the sun
and moon who guided her to safety. She rested
easy in their arms until the clarity
of her convictions devolved into the opiate
of half light that robbed her senses deaf and blind.
Now she hides unmoved except for nights
so rare, so quiet, the heavens’ lament
pours through her window deep into her bones:
                        every moon
                        its own song
                        like rain
                        on barren soil
                        its own song
                        for the dark side
                        we’ll never see

Suzanne Thurman is a former history professor who now spends her time writing and taking care of two small children in Florence, Alabama. Her non-fiction book on the Shakers, O Sisters Ain’t You Happy? (Syracuse University Press) won a 2002 Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award. Her poetry, fiction, book reviews, and essays have appeared most recently in The Mochila Review, Nineteenth-Century Prose, The American Historical Review, The Cresset, Poem, The Square Table, RE:AL, and Aries.