I was introduced to this poem quite recently but from the moment I first heard it I knew it was something I was going to read again and again.
The poem is Felicity in Turin by Paul Durcan.
We met in the Valentino in Turin
And travelled through Italy by train,
I do not mean having sex.
I mean sleeping together.
Of which sexuality is,
And is not, a part.
It is this sleeping together
That is sacred to me.
This yawning together.
You can have sex with anyone
But with whom can you sleep?
I hate you
Because having slept with me
You left me.
I began to think of those I have slept with in my life and the number is relatively small. Of course, as the poet suggests, I do not mean having sex I mean sleep. “The unconscious state or condition regularly and naturally assumed by man and animals, during which the activity of the nervous system is almost or entirely suspended, and recuperation of its powers takes place; slumber, repose.” (OED) So, who have I slept with?
Well there were nights in my childhood that I woke from my sleep and, either from nightmares or from merely not wanting to go back to sleep alone, I climbed under the sheets of my parents’ bed and snuggled in safety between them. My siblings on occasion would, at times, feel exactly the same way as I did and inevitably there could be the whole family of six in the bed by the early hours of the next morning. When I’m troubled by something that I cannot “run away” from in my adult life, I long for those occasions to return. There was something comfortable about that bed and bedroom: the familiar family scents, the retro seventies wallpaper, the rhythmic breathing of everyone, even the voluble snores from my father.
I have slept with my best friend and I do not mean one of these “bff” best friends. I mean my confidant, my “sounding board,” the person who knows me better than I know myself. Those sleep-overs when we were younger have been relived in our adult lives when I’ve thrown a party and, inevitably, some of us have had to bunk together. I’m certain we become those much more innocent teenagers who tittered and laughed our way through the night over boyfriends, kisses and school. She has been there for me always and has waited sometimes patiently for me as I charged headlong through some of life’s mistakes and, returning to lick my wounds, she was just there.
I don’t even know where to begin when it’s time to talk about the sensory exchange that sleeping with my baby provided for me. The warmth, the tiniest of sounds, the “new-born baby” smells, the touch of his perfect skin, and all his tiny movements, were the most sensory phenomena imaginable and provided for a bond that most mothers know they would kill or die for. History then repeated itself as he had nights where he woke from his slumbers through nightmares or unrest and made his way sleepily under the covers for the same safety, comfort and familiarity that I had sought as a child in the night. He is much older now and wouldn’t even consider doing this but I do love the fact that he can “body slam” himself on to my bed on a morning or evening and talk about the things that are on his mind with me.
There is only one other person to mention that I have slept with. It was a very long time ago when he was Orpheus and I was Eurydice. No, I wasn’t literally dead like poor Eurydice but I certainly had not been living. Sleeping with Orpheus was sacred. I do not mean having sex. I mean sleeping with him. Of course, sexuality is, and is not, a part of sleeping with someone when you are attracted to them but it was my falling asleep with Orpheus so effortlessly and safely that caused me to realise that I was complete. We are most vulnerable when we are sleeping. We are at our weakest. Even the strongest among us has to sleep and it is then that even the weakest can just tiptoe into our lives and commit untold damage. In the Book of Judges, Jael killed Sisera, while he slept, driving a tent peg through his head until he was pegged to the ground, Macbeth killed Duncan as he slept as a guest in Macbeth’s home and, of course, there are the numerous victims of Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger. Sleeping with Orpheus cast all those night time fears into some land of forgetfulness, no, not forgetfulness. It was a grace-filled letting go. It was absolution.
Durcan’s poem ends with “I hate you because having slept with me you left me.” Wow! What a line. I can never hate Orpheus.