Northern Lights; Insomnia; Marine Snow
By: Amanda Hiland
Flo, wound in a pale blue coat,
gets up every ten minutes and cannot
remember where she’s going.
I find her cursing at the door
to the laundry room. I coax
her back through hallways lined
with plastic flowers that never grow
or die. The night stains
the windowpanes with charcoal.
of hitching a ride as north
as roads would go, following
the passage of lights in the sky.
I guess there was something for her
out there at the end of the world.
Her daughter always tells me this story
about her mother’s youth in Alaska
shelling mussels and pacing oil claims,
in love with that great mountainous alone.
I don’t ask why she never went. I know
how life piles on like a basket of laundry.
She always put us first. Kept a house and family
for forty years. Kept a husband while he stayed.
I never once saw her as angry
as she’s been every day since she forgot
In a rare glimmer of lucidity, Flo tells me, “You know,
auroras make a noise. It’s an enormous hum,
like a continent groaning
under its own weight. Such a heavy sound
from something made of light. You never forget it.”
In the morning I glimpse her standing
by the highway, blue coat
rippling toward the edge of dawn. Her thumb is
sticking up like a mountain that stops
passing cars in their tracks.
Dear mother, I can’t sleep.
My brain is a hive buzzing
with pieces of thought.
Tonight it’s the electromagnetic
spectrum and how I wish I could see
in all its wavelengths. Also neutrinos –
how there are a million billion
passing through my body right now,
making me more particle than person.
Is that right?
I tried reading a chapter about
the Permian mass extinction, when
95% of life turned to fossilized carbon, but now
I can’t stop thinking about what that means,
all the forms most rare and wondrous
(as Darwin said) which came and went before
I ever got to see.
To be human is a rare species of suffering,
The brain is so heavy with thought, and just
complex enough to be aware it
will only stay lit for a century.
But I want to be awake
when we become the life that lives
on other planets. I want to know
the bodies of stars.
No sleep, not even death
will be enough to halt
my ravenous brain. Its affliction
moves through the bloodline,
and my descendants
lie awake at night beside me,
falls like soft eiderdown
to the ocean floor.
Rooted to a precipice, sea lilies
lift their fronds like fervent supplicants
to call down its blessings.
Shrimp balance on spindly legs
and nibble white wafers.
Chimaera strafe the ridges of
their only promised land.
They have carried hunger
across black sea beds for 100 million years,
and never left.
Down here it’s too cold to know what cold is.
The lamprey feels no chill as
he writhes through turgid water.
No evangelist from the upper
column has ever brought
tidings of light and sky,
and anyway, the sea floor has no word for sun.
Bioluminescence is their birthright, and
they wear it with
a savage vanity.
Consider the angler, that alluring heathen.
Her light is her joy alone; her grin
is the widest in the ocean.
Consider the copepod, who will never know
he is blind. He is grateful
for his soft-tissue
body, and the benthic shark is grateful
to swallow it whole.
Down here they suck the scum
from higher latitudes. All dead
things fall in blizzards
of organic matter;
rotting weeds, saturated
corpses, sand and
shit. All becomes
manna in the mouths of
this abyssal plain, a solid
proof of heaven.
Amanda Hiland grew up hiking through the forests of the Pacific Northwest. She is very fond of rain, colored pens, and chai tea. She teaches Special Education by day and is a major astronomy enthusiast at night. She doesn't sleep much. Her poems have appeared in Epiphany, West Trade Review, Topology Magazine, New Plains Review, Timberline Review, and various other publications.
*Northern Lights first appeared in Passengers Journal
"Northern Lights: After finishing college, I got a job in an assisted living facility so I could save up money for graduate school. I was placed in the 'Memory Care' unit and worked primarily among residents with Alzheimer's and/or dementia. I had never before seen the effects of these disorders on people, and the experience had a significant impact on me which I processed through poetry. In the midst of such profound loss, the human capacity for grace and resilience consistently astonished me. Above all, I was moved by the daily struggles of our residents to both retain and redefine who they were in this final phase of their lives.
Insomnia: I've always found that sleep eludes me when there are too many thoughts clamoring for expression in my mind. Writing them down is my way of putting them to bed so I can eventually follow suit.
Marine Snow: Many people are horrified by the idea of the deep ocean and the creatures that live down there, but I find them fascinating. Occasionally I like to curl up on the couch, turn off the lights, and immerse myself in a deep-sea nature program. It's a distant realm that I will probably never visit, but which is still connected to my surface-dwelling life in strange and subtle ways. I want to shine a (bioluminescent) light upon the denizens of that unseen, alien world."