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What Comes in the Wee Hours

One night last week, awake after just a few hours of sleep, I grabbed a pillow and blanket and went out to the sofa. The bright quarter moon illuminated the tops of the mesquite trees, Venus hovered below, and I found myself just sitting, becoming part of the slow turning that goes on imperceptibly every second of every hour. Soon enough the horizon rose up and both lunar and planetary light faded into a deeper dark. Something loosened inside and fell away. The visceral, familiar feeling of “I’ll be utterly exhausted and useless tomorrow” and its associated overblown worries shape-shifted into a fresh knowing—these hours in the middle of the night contained something I needed, something born of stillness and quiet, and my job was to listen.

So I listened. A poem started writing itself, accompanied by the hum of night insects. Grogginess turned to wakefulness. At some point I fell asleep again, the unfinished poem waiting for sunlight. Surprisingly alert the next morning, I could feel the freshness from the night before weaving itself into the daylight hours. I’d given the poem a title, yet later that day I renamed it after remembering an article by Clark Strand about his ten years of waking up each night at “the hour of the wolf.”

Hour of the Wolf

A quarter moon tilts southeast giving the shadows new names—

why do I wake in the middle of the night?

To see and hear what’s missing—

awake in the time of crickets and moths while sheet lightening shares its joy,

our velocity measured by storm clouds flung across a moonlit sky

these hours given as gift and necessity—

to remember the quiet of three a.m. when trapped in detail and hurry,

to slow to a velocity of breath and heartbeats strung across the day.

The gift of that night has been a slow letting go of time ordered by to-do lists. I don’t feel so serious, a welcome change. The sense of being driven is slowly becoming more of a focused calm—time feels silkier—slinky and fluid in the best sort of way. My hope is that this gift will become familiar and comfortable, like the slippers that slide onto my feet effortlessly on those sleepless nights, padding my steps down the hallway.

“We don’t wake at that hour as we get older because there is something wrong with us—we wake because we are supposed to. We wake because our appointment with the wolf is as old as humanity itself,” says Clark Strand.*

What do you do when the wolf calls?


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