April 15, 2015
Sleep Machine

St. Petersburg during the White Nights


My roommate looks like Zorro in her black

satin mask. She fills this cheap hotel

with phony waves. For hours the make-believe

tide comes in, soft and loud, pooling

around mock coral and mussel shells.


I dream I’m a green canal in a corset

of concrete—the mazurka’s my favorite dance

and appetite’s my friend. I have snacked on cigarettes

and motor oil. Ravished traitors and martyrs,

a diplomat or two, and an architect from France,


sweated them all in my cool green sheets.

“Come,” I say, “Let me show you the river,”

and I take them under bridges, blue and gold,

past restaurants, past war widows in flat black boots,

our laughter spiked with icy slivers.


This river flashes its elbows and wobbly knees.

This river craves amber bangles and salt.

It smells like an avalanche of newsprint

or the Russian word for snow. I want

to wrap myself in its sleek blue pelt


then bob on its back to the Baltic’s deeps.

But at 2 I wake to oars of twisted sheets,

the casements pink. So much for appetite,

the river’s grosgrain sheen, that ersatz tide.

The plumbing sounds its gong. Farewell to sleep.


–Karen Kovacik (Marion County)

An earlier version of this poem appeared in Whiskey Island.


Karen Kovacik

Karen Kovacik  is Professor of English at IUPUI and former Indiana Poet Laureate. Her books include Metropolis Burning and Beyond the Velvet Curtain, and her translation of Agnieszka Kuciak’s Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets Who Don’t Exist (White Pine, 2013) was longlisted for the National Translation Award last year.

Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!

Posted In: Poetry

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