Bed-Time Stories (For J.R.R. Tolkien)

When the day’s dim delusions
Implode at sad endings –
Sherlock Holmes has fallen at Reichenbach Falls;
Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s gone;
The battle is lost, Mordred has won,
The King’s gone to Avalon;
Gandalf is dead –
Broken heads head for safe pillows,
Reciting old stories –
How this frog was turned into a prince, how
This sleeper woke to find the war won, and
How, the spell broken, Penelope found
Her Ulysses home,
Twenty years on time;
But unconvinced brain-waves
Still waiver at their usual pace;
Beside us, the seven sleepers hang
In circadian limbo, awaiting perfection,
Silent heads dozing in caves of calm while we,
The restless ones, toss and turn
In the tides of pensive minds.
It never comes as easily as it should:
A dip and a scoop in the ocean of sleep,
Then a startled jolt upwards, dry again, alerted:
We are far, far from Ithaca.
The lullabies sung by flailing and false voices
Fail altogether to soothe;
Our minds snap to action.
The witch is in her hiding-hole;
Sauron’s eye ever looms large;
The rampart must be defended. Not a moment to be lost.
We spit out the charms of the lotus-eaters;
Our grown-up heads, ever vigilant,
Will not lie on children’s lying pillows.
Too much is at stake.
Only when the rising tide of sleep
Takes us, dips us in its wake,
And defenceless we drop into faint, fearful slumber,
We hear a somewhere half-remembered dream-song:
A hopeful voice from childhood sleep
Of un-frayed endings and wagging tales,
With this promise in its tune:
That wars once lost
May one day be found,
That kings gone may someday return,
That not all falls are final, that three days can end
With a stone rolling, against all expectations, away,
That some may silently rest
While another works forever for us;
Let these be our bed-time stories,
Wakeful, wary sleepers
On pillows of grown-up, weary regret;
When days’ dim delusions implode at sad endings,
Let these words give rest and temper our minds,
That we too might this day sleep
And wake tomorrow to new life.

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