The Insomniac Learns a Lot

Dark voices talk to her
about the most poisonous substance
known to man, about heirloom potatoes
and for an hour acute pain.
Next week: chronic pain.

All around her tiny green, red and orange lights
where things are in sleep mode and standby mode.
The house is a city full of traffic
needing to be told when to stop and go.

Underneath the covers her body is busy
and warm as an animal.
So many litres of sweat drain out of it
she might drown in her mattress
might lie in it like a tank
like a glass coffin.

All night the house ticks and clanks
like a cake cooling on a rack.
With its curtains drawn it is blind
and only two eyes open
only two doll’s eyes fighting open.

In the morning men come to break bottles
men come to cut, they leap from their truck
and mow down hundreds of daisies
that at night close up like fields of fists
because even flowers
know how to go to sleep.

Kate Camp was born in Wellington in 1972. Her first collection of poetry, Unfamiliar Legends of the Stars (1998) won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Her second volume, Realia, was published by Victoria University Press in 2001. She was the University of Waikato writer-in-residence for 2002. Camp has also contributed to the Montana Essay Series in 2002 with an essay entitled ‘On Kissing’.

Camp comments: ‘In 2002, while I was Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, I wrote a series of poems about a woman who is an insomniac. Maybe I was tempting fate, as I’ve always been an excellent sleeper. I think it was just a way of writing about a kind of inner night, a place of darkness and privacy.

‘As it is in many of my poems, the detail here is pretty autobiographical. The house is the cottage I lived in in Hamilton. Living inland, the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures can be extreme. I would lie in bed at night listening to the sounds of the house as it cooled off.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Victoria University Press