I Take My Place in the Insomniac's Village: "Nocturne" in O Magazine -

I Take My Place In the Insomniac's Village in Oprah Magazine~

Here is a lesson in the magical paths that our poems can take. I wrote this poem, "Nocturne," while I was a Fulbright Fellow in Cape Town, South Africa. The poem references South African words like "songololo" and South African places like Clifton Beach. Now the first line, "I take my place in the insomniac's village" is featured in O Magazine for April, National Poetry Month. My dear friend and poet, Kelli Russell Agodon, created a writing prompt inspired by this poem which is included in her book edited with Martha Silano, The Daily Poet.

"Nocturne" appears in my first book, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World, and was born from a bout of insomnia. The speaker is writing an imaginary letter to a friend who is spending the year in Jerusalem. A friend who is studying to be a rabbi while the speaker is studying to be a poet. Perhaps more information than is needed but I know I like knowing the background of different poems I read. Here it is; I hope you enjoy:


I take my place in the insomniac's village,
4 AM blue gum trees in the yard.

Hello darlin' you tell me, only it's over
and out through the ether,

letters shadowed against a lighted screen.

In unheated rooms, the blue shutters calm,
I hold faith in illuminated signs,

pomegranates, stellae,
a double-knot of miracles in the street.

What do Bedouins believe?

On continents not our own,
we test our skin along the silences

of grief, the ordinariness of townships,
truth commissions, Clifton beach.

I send you no postcards, no
subject headers, just messages

of pineapples, feathers, and shells.

With dots and arrows we tell
stories larger than ourselves.

5:15 and the sky is winter green.

Pray for me. 

In Cape Town, in Jerusalem,
we light candles,
wash our hands, salt and tear
the bread; the rituals
for a hungry place
i can't locate to conceal.

Come, let us eat with angels.
Let's toast the allure of
unattainability, the sweet ruin,

a romance never-to-be.
How will this country answer you?

With salvaged alphabets and song

we forage words, tracking
sibilants or sonorants of speech:

songololo, shimmer, orisons.
Another night without sleep.

Which research would you send me,
which holography for your belief?

I picture you opening high windows,
on the outskirts of olive groves,

a tzaddik raising holy sparks
along Jerusalem's morning streets.

Listen, here's the double note
of dove call: the somnambulist's psalm

with a second, private keening.

7AM, the blue gums edge-lit,
almost honed, almost revealing.


  1. Congratulations! It's a wonderful poem and how great to be featured in O Magazine!

  2. How very exciting, Susan--congratulations on your poem's appearing on such a big stage!

  3. Thanks, Yvonne; thanks, Jennifer; it means the world to have your kind notes. How incredibly cool if that first line of my poem could inspire others to write their "Round Midnight" or after midnight poem. Huge thanks to Kelli for sending this prompt that she wrote from The Daily Poet.


Post a Comment