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Poem to be read at 3 a.m. -- Donald Justice

This poem was submitted independently by two readers in response to
yesterday's offering (statius' 'to sleep'): Howard Weinberg
and William Schubert :
(Poem #1343) Poem to be read at 3 a.m.
 Excepting the diner
 On the outskirts.
 The town of Ladora
 At 3 a.m.
 Was dark but
 For my headlights
 And up in
 One second-story room
 A single light
 Where someone
 Was sick or
 Perhaps reading
 As I drove past
 At seventy
 Not thinking.
 This poem
 Is for whoever
 Had the light on
-- Donald Justice
 from "Night Light".

[Howard's comments]

Two things I like about this poem: the way it acknowledges the
brotherhood of those who are not asleep; and the way it captures that
midwestern gothic feeling, which is not at all about dentists with
pitchforks, pace Grant Wood, but is about frail cones of light
shimmering in the prairie darkness.

It is plain, elegant, spare, devastating and, somehow, redemptive. Read
it again.

[William's comments]

I am not an insomniac.  My brain typically shuts down around 9pm and I
get up for meditation around 4:15 so I have little understanding of
insomnia however grateful I am that I don't suffer it.  My social life
has always been a bit truncated by my lack of enjoyment of anything that
happens after 10pm.

But, I feel the voices in this poem.  I think it is because something in
me travels in the night.  I've been on the road through Ladora.
Otherwise how could I so readily recognize the landscape of this simple
poem.  My life (all of our lives) zip along at 70 and it is so difficult
to be aware in the present tense of that single light we passed, that
single person who was by the roadside, that single soul existing in the
periphery of our vision.  Except in memory and regret at having not been
sufficiently in the moment to connect with that other sentient
inhabitant of our world.

I read this poem for the first time in high school. It touched me then
and has haunted me ever since.  I've heard the sound of those tires on
the streets of Ladora in the back of my mind for thirty five years.  And
I have more than once looked up and seen a lighted window and sent a
thought there.  Not alone.  Not alone.

83 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Martin DeMello said...

Beautiful, beautiful poem. I agree with both Howard's and William's comments -
this poem is not about insomnia at all, but rather about the sense of
disconnection, the lonely isolation both of the single house with the light on,
and the lone car passing it at seventy miles an hour. Each a glimpse, and gone


Sandra L Christenson said...

I, too, love this poem. I'm going to use it in my class. It's so accessible
and powerful simultaneously. All is well between Gracie and me. The teacher
offered $20 a week (flat rate) and last night's grading took her over two
hours, which was not bad, but Gracie was up until midnight with her other
homework and that was the first week of school. She took a friend and told
Ms. Selig that she didn't have time to grade any more papers, but thank you.
She also told her the job caused strife at home. Amen. Gracie is the kind of
girl who, like a teacher, gets sick the last week of the semester when
everyone else is partying and relaxing. She already babysits and tutors.
It's too much.It's a curse to be too good a girl, is it not?

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