“Waking Here” on the first Saturday in Advent

Waking Here

By Scott Cairns

This night, one of those clouded
nights that glue the sheets
to your legs and drain the hope
of sleep from you,
so that even the woman
tossing beside you becomes nothing more
than an irritation. So, the two of you
grow slowly stupid in the dark,
being for the most part awake, but numbed
by heat and darkness. At such a time,
you might believe you’ll go on
like this forever; but the night above you
clears, your borrowed room
cools by slow degrees, and the moment
arrives when you startle to the fact
of having slept.
If, at this moment, you would lift
yourself to one elbow to witness
the moonlit room, you would know
that there is waking in this house
a word, simple as blood, whose sound spoken
clearly enough might make things right,
a word like water , or light, a word
clean and honest as dirt, or a woman
you wake to clear autumn nights, the odd light
of the moon on her, a quiet word that tells you
all that it is you’re in the world to learn. *


It is Saturday of the first week of Advent; a week when those themes have come up of keeping awake all night long, watching for something to happen. Questions of hope and whether to have it or not. This poem names the experience of sleepless nights, when you’re in or out of something that might resemble sleep. And in that time, “there is waking in this house a word….whose sound spoken clearly enough might make things right.” Perhaps this is hinting at  what you might hear on Christmas day, if you find yourself in a church, or maybe if you’re just walking around the world and words come to you from these sacred texts. You’ll hear the beginning of the book of John… “In the beginning was the Word…”


*From the Theology of Doubt by Scott Cairns, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1985. Also in “Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry” Edited by David Impastato, 114.


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