Putting The World To Bed

By Peter Halstead

Before I fall asleep at night,
I lay the world down in my sight,

The fish along the riverbed
Put in order in my head,

The birds, by a soporific whim,
Arranged sequentially on a limb,

Sometimes by height, and then by color,
The bright declining to the duller,

The palms above laid out like socks
To rustle on the lined-up rocks,

Clouds arrayed against the sky,
Stars themselves hung out to dry,

All the beds tucked in and mapped,
Christmas presents neatly wrapped:

Only when my days align
Can the pieces of my dreams combine.

December 19th, 2002


I had a dream where I was laying out fish on the beach before going to sleep. This may have been a parable of what a poet often did with things: arranging them in patterns that might prove significant over time, the raw material of dreams. Putting our fish in order. Naming things, folding them up and putting them in a tidy, metrically-shaped drawer, is a way of resolving the world, making one’s nest cozy, the way a dog or a mouse will, spinning continually until we are just where the pillow wants us.
Robert Penn Warren told a young writer that the best thing he could do for his writing was to putter around doing nothing. Puttering is nine-eighths of uttering. Wasting time is an integral part of writing. Acts spring from dreams.
My poem “Arrangement” discusses the idea of organizing the world, although it proposes that objects organize their own lives, impose their own order, without our interference; we just notice the patterns.
As with typesetting boxes from an old-fashioned printing press, to print a poem, all the letters have to be in the boxes first. All the socks have to be in the drawers. The world has to be in some illusion of artificial order.
As Cathy explains my dream, words throw out long fishing lines to each other, to hook their verbal fish, to catch the full merit of one another. All the events of our lives are running around chaotically, like fishermen in a storm. You have to get them all inside first and let them come out one by one and cast their lines to make some sense out of the sea.

December 19th, 2002, 11:42 A.M.–1:14 P.M.