Margaret Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep” is a poem that still brings an ache to my throat, especially when I remember the seemingly hopeless yearning I felt for my (now) husband. I think of it when I lie next to him at night and listen to his rhythmic breathing, letting the sound of his presence rock me to too-often elusive sleep. I imagine that at my passing my soul alighting upon his outstretched finger and resting for one moment in his cupped hand before fluttering off to my preferred oblivion, and I wish for one moment to see the world made orderly by his rational eyes. My skies, the only place I am gifted with wings, are the blue that watch me.
Wll, that has probably embarrassed him enough for now...on to the prompts!
Prompt 1: Describe another activity that you want to watch a potential lover perform? Would you like to watch a lover drink the first cup in the morning? To be the aroma inhaled, the relief in the first swallow, the trail of warmth sliding along tongue and down the throat to the center of abdomen, to be carried there in a cold morning, the frenetic firing of neurons wiping away sleep’s film, to embody the addiction and daily comfort and habit, to be reached for and cupped every blessed morning, even the darkest ones. If you do use this prompt, particularly if you use similar wording to the original or use a variation on the title (pun intended), don’t forget to credit Atwood.
Prompt 2: What items would you give a lover to protect them (or he/her) in a dream? An invisibility cloak to hide them from the monsters, an eagle’s wings to fly high above pain, a key to unlock the guilt-manacles chaffing their wrists?
Prompt 3: Where does your lover’s dream-self travel? Where is their “worst fear”? Describe the land/environment. How will you help them return to the waking? Will you offer gate or boat or bridge or door or galloping horse or tunnel or elevator? And how will you follow them there? If it helps, you can use the line “towards your worst fear” as ghost line. The rest of the poem can your desired lover’s journey or your own. Again be sure to give credit.
Dana Point, CA