Tuesday, February 22, 2011


It's easy to startle me. Come up behind me and say something, I'll leap six inches into the air. The other afternoon in the movie theater, when the characters on screen were in a haunted house, I knocked over my almost-empty drink cup. And if I get woken up by an alarm, I'm jumpy all day.

This morning I got woken up by the telephone. It's actually a cell phone, and it plays a gentle little melody, but nevertheless it made me sit up in bed, heart pounding, dreams rushing away from me.

It's a snow day here; we got four or five inches. I would have liked to sleep through more of it, but now here I am, very wide awake indeed, feeling like the titular peas in this poem by Michael David Madonick:

Some things don't want to be
uncovered. My son, in the morning
especially, doesn't want to be

uncovered. The egg, deep in its shell,
tight as the can of coffee, or
the milk, quiet in cardboard, or the chicken,

almost gone in the ice-box, they don't
want to be uncovered. They give you a hard
look, like you've caught them by

surprise, you've been rude when there
was no thought of being rude.
I remember how black sea bass would run

close to the shore at low
tide. Sometimes I would see them there,
through the water at my knees,

darting like comets after crabs or
smaller fish. They were fast.
I imagine if they bothered to look up,

they'd look like my son,
startled, unnerved, insulted by the fact
they were being watched,

simply observed. Sometimes when I open
a can of peas I think
about the universe, about the depth of

darkness, about whether if
the sky full of stars were turned back
like the top of a can, I'd

be angry, annoyed, or would someone
else, looking in
from the other side, complain.

Now I'm thinking of the Heinlein story "Goldfish bowl" and whether the bunny who is spending the winter in our dining room minds when we do have to get up for school and someone turns the light on, rather than letting the dawn illuminate his room slowly, the way he's used to from all his years outside.

Waking up to this much snow was a kind of rude awakening all by itself, I think. Did any of you have a rude awakening this morning?


FreshHell said...

My sleep was interrupted by a small child climbing in my bed and then thrashing and mumbling. I ended up leaving and sleeping elsewhere and was rudely awoke much too soon afterwards. Every morning that I have to wake up to the alarm clock is a rude awakening.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I agree. Having to wake up to the clock radio is punishing enough, but you don't want to see/hear/feel my wild-eyed look if an actual alarm awakens me!

Valerie said...

Since we were out of town, we turned off the radio alarm. John reset it for this morning and it came on in alarm form rather than radio. It was a rude awakening.

Jeanne said...

Valerie, that IS rude, especially as you have no one to blame but yourselves!

Nancy said...

My fragile nervous system does not care for rude awakenings, and lets me know it: seconds after I leap out of bed, ready for fight-or-flight, I am hanging onto the furniture, trying not to faint or throw up. I don't think I am the stuff of pioneer women. I never win Oregon Trail, even.

Jeanne said...

Nancy, ha, you win the most fragile nervous system contest with the feeling faint or nauseated backlash! Now I'm thinking of the "sensitivity" song from Once Upon a Mattress!

Jenny said...

I hate it when I forget to put my phone on vibrate before I go to bed, and it wakes me up with a song instead of just a vague, vibratey buzz. It gets my heart racing.

Jeanne said...

Jenny, I usually turn off my phone before I go to bed. But there's someone else in the bed who has to know if computer systems aren't working 24/7, so it's not that unusual for me to wake up with a racing heart, as you describe.

Harriet said...

I agree 100 percent about alarm clocks, which is, I think, why I have an uncanny knack for waking up exactly 5 minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off, no matter what time it's set for. The poem reminds me of watching what would happen to AJ's face, when he was a baby, when you would take him outside and face him toward the wind.

Jeanne said...

Harriet, I think it's clever of you to be able to wake up before the alarm. I can only do that if I've gotten enough sleep, which isn't usually the case if I have to set an alarm.

Yeah, a baby's face in the wind. That is the feeling of the poem!

Care said...

I get woken up by the dog's tail pounding hard on the floor in hopeful anticipation that I am awake. I try to lie motionless but I know he can tell my breathing has changed and then the tail pounds faster. Actually, I can sometimes get him to stop when I say 'snooze'. It's amazing to me what dogs can learn or don't.

Jeanne said...

Care, a dog with a snooze alarm...now I've heard of everything!

Jenners said...

You always find the best poems! And my mornings ALWAYS begin with "Mommmyyyyy! Time to get up!" Some day I find it charming. Other days I consider it a rude awakening.

Jeanne said...

Jenners, as the mother of a teenager, I say try to enjoy it while you can. All too soon your little one won't care if you're up when he is.

Jodie said...

There is a bunny in your dining room? I've managed to get myself used to the alram on my phone (not the one on the alarm clock though, that is like a siren)but am always having starts walking around corners into people - startled this one guy, because I was thinking about serial killers and jumped sky high when he came round a corner. Are you a light sleeper though, because a radio wouldn't wake me up (I slept through a very small earthquake once).

Jeanne said...

Jodie, there is an elderly gentleman bunny in my dining room, and he makes me think of one of the lines from the Gregory Corso poem "Marriage": "all alone with pee stains on my underwear," except that he misses the litter and hits the newspaper, making the dining room smell of rabbit pee.

He's in the dining room because of the odd configuration of our house; it's really the only free space for a cage big enough (it's about four feet long). He's always lived outside until this winter, but he's too old for that now.

I think most women who have had kids sleep more lightly after that, but I've always been easy to alarm in the middle of the night, if not awake--a college roommate swears we had a conversation in which I promised to come down and unlock the door for her, but I have no memory of talking to her at all (I swear, Ann, it's TRUE).

I had one of those startled walking into someone moments last week, coming into the back of the library. We laughed that we were both absent-minded stereotypes.