“The Dark Miracle of Insomnia” by Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels


Chimayó is home of the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas. Local residents walk miles, often barefoot, to visit the sanctuary… Many take away “tierra bendita” (holy dirt) from a hole in the floor, claiming miraculous healings. Sometimes referred to as “Lourdes of America,” the golden adobe church with its twin bell towers attracts close to 300,000 visitors a year.

for Demetria Martinez

She handed me a baggie of holy dirt—
a gift from a new friend. Back at the motel,
it reminded me of various drugs I’d ingested

in various ways. I wondered if airport security
would sniff it out the next day. That night
in a curtain-less room, I watched darkness

swallow the random lights of Albuquerque
while the freeway whisper faded to a nearly
inaudible hiss. I could not sleep because
an alarm was set or I had eaten too much

or not enough or I hadn’t stretched or I was almost
cold and faintly overheated, over-hearted
with longing for my family back in Pittsburgh,
back in Detroit, back in Oshkosh, Wisconsin

and Paw Paw, Michigan, and in the deep dark
ground or drifting forever away from me.
The tremble of panic strummed taut strings
till all was rigid and brittle, the hair-

line crack of sanity spreading with each blink,
each heart thud, each dry swallow. Finally.
I grabbed the baggie and spread the red dirt
in an arc around my bed.

I did not have pills of any kind. Cold turkeys
gobbled at my sliding door, steaming the glass.
I felt like I was spreading salt across
the icy sidewalk back in Pittsburgh

where my children slept, their soft breath holy
as all get out. This is the part of the song
where the gospel choir sways into action,

kicks it into the high gear many of us die trying
to find, burning out the clutch of the heart,
the soul, the faint smell of burning rubber,
and we’re stranded forever.

I woke up to the alarm
of a truck beeping in reverse
and morning’s definite light. When I rose,

I wept at the faint red half-circle in the faded green
carpet. The smirking genie. The shame
of the bargain. The broken hourglass.
The wall of abandoned crutches.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007


Jim Daniels: “I don’t get many poems out of being on the road giving poetry readings, but this is one of them. I think a lot of writers suffer from insomnia, but it’s not something we talk about a lot. I’ve always felt vaguely ashamed of having sleep problems. But, when you can’t sleep, what else can do you but write?” (web)

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