Broken Sleep

I wake to a residue of milk
playing in your throat.
Through the window starlings
coagulate in the no-colour dawn,

each bird distinct, but utterly
in thrall to formations of twist,
kite, looming bee-swarm.
Your single cry’s answered

by a parched breaking in my chest
and a laboured rush
of hot liquid. As I lift you
from your crib, still balled up

and loaded with sleep, I know
soon you’ll uncurl, walk away
to a point I can’t hear you.
The birds rise together as though

on an up-draught. I spread
your outstretched fingers
on the back of my hand as you
work away at one breast –

ears pulling in time, toes curling;
your whole body drinking –
and lost milk from my other breast
grows cold as rain on my nightdress.

by Sally Read

© Sally Read, 2009

‘Broken Sleep’ is the title poem of Sally Read‘s second collection (Bloodaxe Books, 2009). It comes from a cycle of poems addressed to a baby from a mother, moving from the uncertainty and awe at the discovery of a pregnancy through to the ecstasy of early motherhood. It charts, with tenderness, the child’s development from a foetus in the dark, to a walking, talking toddler in a bewildering and exciting world. The poems comprise a hymn and an elegy to the experience of pregnancy and early motherhood.

The second part of the book, The Glass Eye, moves swiftly into a world where loss, whether of a loved one, a breast, or simply innocence, is countered by extraordinary kinds of redemption. Whether conjuring angels, music, or lies, these pieces offer a sometimes disturbing but always marvellous alternative to the unavoidable blackness behind the glass eye.

You can find out more about the collection here, more about Sally Read at this page, and hear her read from her work at the Poetry Archive (if you cannot hear the recording here, click on the link entitled ‘open player in a new window’).

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found here.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.