Joshua Sutherland Allen

Joshua Sutherland Allen

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I Dread Going to Sleep

My grandmother sits in her recliner
In her den, drinking coffee, looking out
At birds that fight over the bird-feeder
As autumn shadows march from woods to house –
The sun now angling downward in the sky,
And chilly air signals winter’s approach.

Sometimes we talk about my work at school.
I teach in the school district where she taught
For forty years, and so she likes to hear
How things have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.

“Your grandfather is at the store,” she says.
“He will be sorry that he missed you here.
You’ll have to come back by again sometime
And say hello to him.” 

                                      The mood is sweet.
It almost seems that she is not aware
That she is gone.  For me, it’s like the scene
From Wilder: Emily comes back from death
To live one day, only to learn that she
Has lost the chance to value every day
And even every minute of each day.
But in our case, it is she that comes back,
And I who lose the chance to value her.

When I wake up I know the truth again:
My grandfather died almost three years back,
My grandmother followed him this past spring.
My mother’s mother, on the other side
Passed away exactly four weeks later.
I see them all, I speak with them in dreams.
They are with me, but not with me, because
I know what they do not know: that they are
Shadows, born in my imagination.

I see my grandfather and hear his walk,
His good leg steps, followed by the bad one,
Paralyzed by polio, made rigid
By a metal brace.  The metallic clink
Of the brace was my signal as a child
That he was home.  The sound echoes and rings
Through the now-empty house, and I can see
His labored steps moving through the hallway,
And I can hear his voice, not heard at all
These last three years.  He calls my name and talks
About the latest Mizzou football game.

Then sadly, I am awake.  The shadows
Were simply shadows, and nothing better.
I lost them once, and I lose them again
Each time I wake up. 


  1. The poem has an amazing flow captivating the mind in its strong are one lucky soul having your loved ones in your dreams & memories..though a little personal but I can't help mentioning it, my father passed away last year and I so sorely miss his presence...sometimes dreams of the near and dear ones are gifts of God...

  2. memories are precious! beautiful how they stay within us.

  3. I haven't had any grandparents since I was 12, but I spent a lot of time until then with my paternal grandparents who lived just 6 doors down from us. You reminded me of that precious time. Thanks!

  4. It is the time to remember the all souls we loved and remember. Thank God!

  5. So poignant! First, I was envying you the fact they visit you in dreams, which must be wonderful. Then I read your lines that you lose them again each time you wake up. So beautifully written.

  6. What a blessing to remember beloveds in such a sweet way… missing them is hard, loving them lasts forever.

  7. What a wonderful memorial. It hurts to loose them when you can remember so much that they gave you.

  8. Oh, this is so very poignant...especially that last stanza, where you lost them once and then lose them again every morning when you wake. In some way, however, it is good that they visit you. I am not visited by anyone who lived before, but I would like to be.

  9. you captured this so beautifully... the gentleness of your pen, the depth of your heart, and the love... went through a similar situations.... mom gone one October, mother-in-law 5 months later, and my dad the following October... taught me life is too precious to waste... if only i had one more afternoon at the table talking about life things... you captured the reality of loss