“Maternal Admiration,” oil on canvas, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1869.

by Jackleen Holton

Sleep while the baby sleeps,
they tell you, and so you begin, like one having to learn
everything all over again, to take sleep in small sips,
your body warm and fever-heavy, a jet-lagged sway
to everything. Day, night, it hardly matters
anymore, bed, couch or chair by the window,
sun streaming in through the branches
of the three-story-high tree, a light like France,
fifteen years ago: a friend’s centuries-old
apartment, one room with a bed you got to by ladder,
so close to the ceiling it almost felt like a grave,
but for that window full of dappled sunlight,
and the outdoor market below, the little café
where earlier that day you ate a gorgeous
three-cheese pizza, washed it down
with real champagne, the feel of it on your tongue
reminding you of the French word
for freedom, and as you tried to sleep, your stomach
churned and you felt this was a fair price
to pay for the pleasure you’d taken in that meal,
as the little scraps of language floated up
from the street, a foreign-tongued bargaining,
so many words you never heard before weaving
in and out of dreams as light as the crocheted blanket
you draped over yourself before finally drifting
away for these few minutes, before the baby’s shrieks
pull you back over oceans and years,
and you rise from the chair in the corner, woozy
from a dream of bubbles in a plastic flute, the buzz
of a foreign flea market in your head, a freedom
you can only reach by the rickety ladder of slumber.

“Sleep While the Baby Sleeps” originally appeared in West Trestle Review.

Jackleen Holton’s poems have been published in the anthologies The Giant Book of Poetry, California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology, and Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life. Honors include Bellingham Review’s 49th Parallel Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Dogwood, Poet Lore, Rattle, RHINO Poetry, Salamander, and others.