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D E C E M B E R   1 9 9 5

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NIGHT TERRORS

by Alan Shapiro


Whose voice is it in mine when the child cries,
terrified in sleep, and half asleep myself I'm there
beside him saying, shh, now easy, shh,

whose voice?--too intimate with all the ways
of solace to be merely mine; so prodigal
in desiring to give, yet so exact in giving

that even before I reach the little bed,
before I touch him, as I do anyway,
already he is breathing quietly again.

Is it my mother's voice in mine, the memory
no memory at all but just the vocal trace,
sheer bodily sensation on the lips and tongue,

of what I may have heard once in the pre-
remembering of infancy, heard once and then
forgot entirely till it was wakened by the cry,

brought back, as if from exile, by the child's cry--
here to the father's voice, where the son again
can ask the mother, and the mother, too, the son:

why has it taken you so long to come?


Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1995; "Night Terrors"; Volume 276, No. 6; page 76.

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