The figure alone is enough to keep
me wide awake,
the five with its little station
and cap with the flat visor, followed
by the zero,
oval of looking glass, porthole
on a ghost ship,
an opening you stick your arm into
and feel nothing.
I want to daydream here in the dark,
to the trees behind the house reciting
bare anonymous beings, murmuring
in lines that reach out like long
branches in spring.
I want my mind to be a sail, susceptible
to any breeze
that might be blowing across the
lake of consciousness.
But I keep picturing the number,
round and daunting:
I drop a fifty-dollar bill on a
I carry a fifty-pound bag of wet
sand on my shoulders.
I see fifty yearlings leaping a
fence in a field,
I fan the five decades before me
like a poker hand.
I try contemplating the sufferings
of others, Rossini,
for example, considered by many
to be the Father
of Modern Insomnia for his prolonged
during the composition of the William
But even a long meditation on the
life of Brahms,
widely recognized as the Father
of the Modern Lullaby,
will not dispel the fives and zeros,
gnomes in the night,
perched on the bedposts, one straddling
a closet doorknob.
By dawn, I have become a Catholic
the oldest altar boy in the parish,
with surplice and cassock, cruet,
thurible, and candle.
And this day, whose first light
is gilding the windows,
has become another one of the sorrowful
following the agony in the garden
and preceding the crucifixion,
the letter X removed from
the word and nailed to a cross,
the rest of the alphabet standing
on the rocky hillside, marveling
at all the lightning
that is cutting silently across
the dark sky.
© by Billy Collins