National Poetry Month: Jeannine Hall Gailey’s fables of sleep

Sleep is a familiar friend and foe for this poet.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, poet and author of The Robot Scientist's Daughter

Curator’s note: It is my pleasure to share these three poems referencing sleep to close out National Poetry Month. Jeannine Hall Gailey is a favorite poet who trades in fairy tale, myth, and fabulism in ways that are bold and irreverent. I couldn’t be happier to include her work at the website. Enjoy!

(Please note, poems best viewed on tablet or larger electronic device.)

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter: Experiments in Sleep Deprivation

They believed she was designed to be a supersoldier.
They used a CAT scan to look for infiltrants to her heart and lungs,
they kept her up all night with lights and sirens to test her will.
When she nodded off, they prodded her with needles.

She’s forgotten the lessons of mushrooms, of mongrels,
of her childhood. In fact, she can’t even remember running.
Is it possible it was all a dream? Now the grim facts march
before her: another enemy body part rebelling, another tamping
down of her own systems in order to observe and operate.
They try to tamper and tame her piece by piece.

In her dreams they are telling her about fluid in the lungs.
They ask her if she would rather be Margaret Atwood or Sylvia Plath.
Louise Gluck, she answers without thinking, because of the fabulous shoes.
Now there was a woman who knew how to garden,
she talked with the flowers, knew how to shop for cheese.
An enviable, contained life, as precise as the X-Acto knife
her father invented. The daughters of inventors are bound to
circumscribe their father’s creations with words.

In twenty days she has not slept the night. They think it’s impossible
to hold her. She throws the machines into mystification.
They cannot pin her down, not yet. She resists the urge to sing.

Credit: This poem appears in The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey, ©2015 (Mayapple Press) and is reprinted here by permission of the author.


Sure, Beauty Sleeps

She’s tired of fake smiles and artifice,
the starch-and-go templates,
hidden gestures of brutality
put up like gleaming suns
against the cold background of her mind
and the scented pages that stack up around her.

They say she waits for a kiss
but she’s the one who planted those briars,
who fed her dog sleeping pills
and shut herself away. I mean, she could
wake up if she wanted.
Meanwhile, men look down

adoring on her face, usually pasted
in glossy magazines advertising some magic potion.
Her own hallucinations seem less savory;
she dreams of peeling off her skin, limbs growing
like vines; of the green oozing beneath,
the monster she knows she is becoming.
Look out for the dragon guarding the castle:

she may answer to the name of beauty,
beauty of thorny hedges and impenetrable stone walls,
beauty who won’t respond to your touch
no matter how hard you shake her,
beauty who curls inward year after year,
building her somnolent paradise,
fingers blossoming in the night.

j9 fevers book cover
Credit: This poem appears in Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey, ©2013 (New Binary Press) and is reprinted here by permission of the author.


Snow White Dreams

I fell asleep one night after cheerleading practice.
After that, I didn’t wake up.

In my dreams I am trapped inside a television,
watched by a man with no face.

Sometimes I sing to animals who can talk.
I try to open the door of a woodland cottage, full of shadows.

If I scream, no one can hear me. I am an illusion
everyone wants to be part of.

My mother wished me to be beautiful, then hated me for it.
I think she put drugs in my soup.

Men come to look at me, even asleep; they take photographs.
They murmur over red lips, white skin, ebony hair. A teen dream.

Being the pretty one can be so tiring.
I got bored of making small talk.

I suspect I snack in my sleep. My tongue is covered with crumbs.
All the clocks have been set wrong. They’re ticking inside my head.

I swear there are cameras on me. I have become invisible.
The white walls covered in posters and get-well-soon cards

grow dusty, like a tomb. Still, a vacuum
like my cavernous heart; eat it with salt.

Poison me with apples, with ribbons, with combs.
I need someone to breathe new life into this body.

j9 fevers book cover


Credit: This poem appears in Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey, ©2013 (New Binary Press) and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

j9 headshot

About Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey is an award-winning and widely published American poet. She has served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. Gailey is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner. Her website is Twitter handle: @webbish6.

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