Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight is a poem by Galway Kinnell. I’m posting just the first section here, but will give a you a link to the whole piece. Little Sleep-Head is part of Kinnell’s book, The Book of Nightmares, which is a long poem in ten sections. The Book of Nightmares is an amazing work. Kinnell published it in 1971 and got some pretty good feedback. Actually, it was called a classic and deemed his masterpiece as soon as it came out. Robert Hass (another favorite poet of mine) had this to say about it, “It is increasingly clear that Kinnell’s ambition all along has been to hold death up to life, as if he had it by the scruff of the neck, and to keep it there until he has extracted a blessing from it.”
My copy is full of scrawled notes from a workshop I took with David St. John a few years ago. This is the kind of book you feel lucky to spend a whole day studying, but then you realize that even this kind of close reading only scratches the surface.
I think this section of Little Sleep’s-Head holds feelings recognizable to parents. The child wakes from nightmare, as a parent, you console her and know how much she draws from your strength. As I read this section again, I realize that I still hold the belief in the permanence of my parents. Not as a child does, but see what you think. Maybe it’s just the grateful memory of all their steadiness over the years. I like reading this both ways – as a parent and as a daughter.
Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight
by Galway Kinnell
You scream, waking from a nightmare.
When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
my broken arms heal themselves around you.
Here’s the link to the rest of the piece: Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight.