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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 30, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘Sleep’ explores the space where human agency or communication seems impossible until an unexpected moment of connection or surprise occurs, often between two people, often through art. A few years ago, I had the honor of traveling through Jinshan, Taiwan. At a monastery, I attended a conference on Buddhism. Outside the temple grounds, English held no cachet. Jinshan was famous for its hot springs and pools of captive koi. I watched them move through the water without a sound and began writing this poem. One day, I got lost in a local marketplace. To ask for directions home, I tried speaking in Japanese. A woman selling herbs and flowers answered. She had been forced to learn Japanese as a schoolgirl during the occupation of Taiwan. After independence, she never thought the language would come in handy again, especially not in the twenty-first century, especially not while talking to a Bengali-American traveler like me. We talked, our conversation halting, full of sorrow and surprise, for nearly an hour.”
Rita Banerjee

Sleep

What does it mean to be so still?
to glide along the ocean floor

like some black-tongued electric eel,
to burn through marbled gold and green

of oceanic things like some
compact mass deforming space, time,

a void within voids, and then?
It is easier to imagine amphibian,

to know that blood, too, can change
its temperament as quickly as

salamanders change skin, as quickly as
eyes of newt and tongues of dog become

incantations, enchantments of art
and life just as an animal submerged

under water becomes unknown,
just as respirations become primitive

and breaths and motions cease
as a lone fish in a dark pond

arrives as an object of thought
and becomes stone.

Copyright © 2017 by Rita Banerjee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Rita Banerjee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rita Banerjee

Rita Banerjee

Rita Banerjee is the author of Echo in Four Beats, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February 2018. She is the executive creative director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and teaches on modernism, art house film, and South Asian aesthetics and literary theory at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, where she currently lives.