‘Sleep’ by Roger Robinson

Sleep

It becomes clear to you
the night your father asks you
to wake him up to see
his favourite film on TV,
and despite cups of coffee
bright lights and company
he is asleep
with his dark rimmed glasses
tilted on his face
before the opening credits.

And there
hearing the drag of his snore
and watching the uncomfortably
crooked angle of his neck,
you see him at nineteen,
taking care of his four brothers
and one sister and studying
for a scholarship while working
nights pushing dead bodies
at the local morgue, and he’s tired
but he can’t stop because he’ll
be the first in their family
to go to university and he can’t let them down.

At twenty-one
he’s in class at Stirling University
wondering if he can afford the batteries
for his warehouseman’s torch
so he can study on the job tonight.
Nobody told him Scotland
would be this cold, and it’s
so lonely sometimes but he
has to pass these exams
or he’ll be out.

At twenty-two you’re born.
Your mother works the night shift
at the hospital, and he tries to read
between your two a.m. squeals
and he picks you up
in the hand not holding the book
and smiles and rocks you to sleep.

Twenty-five now,
and working late five nights a week
trying to snatch a few promotions,
and somehow he thought
it might be a bit easier with his degree,
and he really needs
to move his wife and kids
into a place of their own.

And for the next twenty years
he battles on his job every day
just so you could be comfortable
and have the space to be what you want.

And then you know
that he’s never had much time for this
for rest, for sleep.
You prop his head with a pillow,
gingerly pull off his glasses
and stare at him
snoring, loudly,
beautifully.
 
(first published in Out of Bounds: British Black & Asian Poets, Bloodaxe)
 

Roger Robinson is a Trinidadian writer and performer who has lived in London for 20 years. He was named by Arts Council England and Decibel as one of the most influential writers on the Black-British writing canon over the past 50 years. He is a co-founder of Malika’s Kitchen and has published two poetry collections, Suitcase (2004) and Suckle (2009) and he is the lead vocalist for King Midas Sound.

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