“In Sleep,” by Robert Kotlowitz (1954)

Man Sleeping in Car - Vivian Maier -VM1955W02739 – New York, NY, 1955
Man Sleeping in Car — Vivian Maier, New York City, 1955

In Sleep

What do I see in my sleep?
A steady seepage of life
in dreams
that are of no use
to a practical body.

I awake like you,
sapped by a watchful reality,
defined by a soft-boiled egg.
Today’s newspaper
tucked under my arm,
swats invisible enemies on the fleeing subway.

Time, then, is transformed
from uptown to downtown,
and through its metamorphosis
I move into the material of life.
It catches fast,
holding in its swell
the sweating molecules of the morning,
the darting enzymes of eternity.

I watch, I wonder,
and wondering,
am caught in perpetual bombardments
of anxious demands, urgent moments,
that, like dreams after all,
streak the illumined air
with startling beauty:
the heart’s silhouette
of desire, sorrow and eager mortality.

This poem comes from Discovery no. 3, the third of the brief run of Discovery, a paperback magazine edited by Vance Bourjaily and published by Pocket Books between 1953 and 1955. Although Kotlowitz was, at the time, trying to write a novel, he ended up going into editing and, later and somewhat by accident, public broadcasting. He did, however, write four novels, beginning with Somewhere Else in 1972. His memoir of combat as a U.S. Army rifleman in World War Two, including the skirmish following the D-Day invasion in which virtually his entire platoon was killed—Before Their Time—was published in 1999 and is still in print. His son, Alex, is a journalist who wrote the award-winning account of life in the Chicago projects, There Are No Children Here (1992).

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