The Sleep of the Dead

by Burt Kimmelman

Burt Kimmelman

My mother would sleep "the sleep of the dead,"
she used to say. We would wake her and she
would sigh, saying she had slept longer than
she had meant to. On the day my father
was to leave our home he lay in bed with
his back to her, a single tear in his
eye - and she, breathing softly, lay with her
back to him. "I wake to sleep," Roethke wrote.
In her sleep she seemed to leave her daily
torments behind with her two sons, boyfriends,
job, landlord, books, music, movies, paintings
and sculptures - as if sleep were without thought,
without language or dream, the stepping out
of time and into a still and deep lake.

In her old age she grew sick, too full of
pain to walk more than a few steps from her
bed. One night, after a light meal with wine,
she fell asleep. When we found her in the
morning she was lying on her side, her
arm crooked at the elbow and tucked under
her pillow, her eyes and lips closed, her cheek
smooth. A thin thread of saliva and blood
had trickled from the corner of her mouth
and turned brittle on her chin. Her heart had
surged and stopped, She looked like she had not known
it. Perhaps that night she dreamed - dreaming of
lying in her mother's arms, of sinking
into the calm water of her embrace.

Taking Dinner To My Mother

Last updated June 30, 2015