The Ambition Bird

I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the past few nights.

It happens sometimes, when i’m not aware that something is on my mind, or when I am 🙂 I always liked to stay awake when everyone else was asleep. Have you ever read Tom’s Midnight Garden? It’s a children’s book from the 1950’s that my mum got for me when I was about 11, about a young boy who goes to stay with his aunt and uncle, and discovers that he can enter a beautiful Victorian garden whenever the grandfather clock strikes 13 at midnight. He befriends a young girl called Hatty, in this midnight garden, and whenever he goes back it’s at a different time, and she gets older. The whole book has a strange and lovely, almost ethereal feel to it. I guess that’s that feeling I get from being awake late at night, when everyone else is asleep. A feeling like dark blue. Everything is quiet, it’s when I’m at my most productive. At university I would stay up to write essays until 7am, although I’m not very good at sleeping during the day to catch up on sleep afterwards. So it’s not very sustainable 🙂 Now, with a 9:30am-6pm job, I’ve gotten better at going to bed early. But it’s different when you’re unable to sleep because your head is buzzing with thoughts, and your heart is beating fast and loud in your ears.

A few nights ago I was looking through a book of poems by Anne Sexton. I love Anne Sexton. She writes some of the most honest things I’ve ever read. And also really beautiful, in the way that truth and honesty can be. Not very polished, but raw.

Anyways, this one is called The Ambition Bird. It sprang back into my mind last night, as I couldn’t sleep.

It goes:


So it has come to this —
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine

like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
that warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.

The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.

He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.

He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.

He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.

He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.

He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.

He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.

He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.

He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough to just drink cocoa?

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.

I guess I’m digesting the year that was, and feeling more thin-skinned as the year rounds off. Things are resurfacing, or surfacing, thoughts about the past, and the future. Sometimes I think how beautiful it would be to only think about the now. But then where would we be 🙂

And yet. Wouldn’t it be
good enough to just drink cocoa?


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