Down to Sleep
Scott Owens holds degrees from Ohio University, UNC Charlotte, and UNC Greensboro. He teaches at Lenoir Rhyne University, edits Wild Goose Poetry Review, owns and operates Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and Gallery and coordinates Poetry Hickory. is his 14th collection of poetry. His work has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Next Generation/Indie Lit Awards, the NC Writers Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC. He has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac 5 times, and his articles about poetry have been featured in Poet’s Market four times.
Down to Sleep immerses language in praise, as the voice of Scott Owens builds a symphony of creations unique among contemporary poets. Down to Sleep ebbs and edges dream and reality in a joyful awakening. Every poem makes me feel like a child again, even as age swings on dove wings settling on broken blades of grass.
— Shelby Stephenson, Poet Laureate of North Carolina
After a writer reaches an elevated level of technical and artistic proficiency, the next goal should be to shape an artifact that absolutely no one else could have produced. In this stunning, nightmarish collection of narrative poems, Owens has done just that. Down to Sleep is guaranteed to both enlighten and haunt its readers.
–Tim Peeler, Author of Rough Beast
These poems are sharp-edged, cutting through the dust and worn grooves of our everyday routines with dynamism and humanity. Like a script for a rainbow, these lines constantly teeter between the poet’s waking life and his dream state, the twilight imagination that informs our best creative impulses, and reminds us that we are not prisoners of our personal histories, but hopeful beings that lay down at night inside skins that need shedding. In some ways, this collection is an artifact for a phantom, a manual hard-wired to reality, that tethers its creator to solid ground, even as he finds himself in the constant act of disappearing. There is a scene in Hitchcock’s 1951 film, Strangers on a Train, in which Robert Walker pops a child’s balloon at a fair with his cigarette. These poems operate in just the opposite manner, locating the toxic nature and nightmares of this broken life, turning the black smoke into balloons.
–Keith Flynn, editor of The Asheville Poetry Review,
and author of Colony Collapse Disorder
You In the Tomb of My Eyes
In the night there are boot sounds
from the floor upstairs, wild clicking
of heels refusing their place in line.
There are skies burning with alien
fire, rivers and fields turning white
with night’s breath. There are rooms
and windows and stars and songs
and cigarettes, and seas and universes.
There are cats’ cries and rotting wood
and the barely felt brush of wings.
Trains go past like ghosts screaming
from years away, or just outside
the window. Heavy-handed, strong-armed,
stout-hearted night, hysterical night.
There are assassins and bricklayers
and engineers and gravediggers
and bottles and milky ways and broken glass.
There are cages of glass in the night.
There is me falling through the cracks
of my dreams. There is you in the tomb
of my eyes, in the river that runs
into night, in the sky of night’s falling.
On the road to night’s high tower
nightmare trees uproot the past,
boulders break across the path,
half-blind dogs, birds of sound,
ponies grown wild with wandering.
There is me being pursued by men with teeth.
There is you with your voice in your hands.
Footsteps quicken to flight.
In the night there are snowstorms in glass
domes, there are holes in the sky.
Overdressed night, night in black-tie
and tails, night pulling on its jacket
of stars, feeding eyes that burn,
nursing the trembling lip,
closing its dark hand on beggars and whores
and pushers and pimps and thieves and insomniacs
and sleepwalkers and sleepers and dreamers.
Stars collide, planets turn,
moons pull down their pants.
Foul-mouthed, raven-winged, black-browed night.
In the night there are seven senses,
marble halls of plenty, edible islands.
There is me speaking in tongues,
tongue of shadow, tongue of lies,
dew tongue, honey tongue, willow tongue,
tongue that rages, tongue laid out
on stone. There is you with your ears
like cups, your eyes like hooks,
your mouth like an empty shelf.
There is always me playing with myself,
peeling my skin, sticking knives
through the backs of my hands,
pulling out empty tubes of veins.
There are, of course, reams of nothing
filling with words, sounds, wild
clicking of heels. There is me turning
into myself. There is you blooming
into night’s unshapened face.
Club-footed, cloven-hoofed, double-breasted
night carries on its back cities,
moons, farms, pictures of you,
dogs’ mouths dripping stars.
There is me looking like you,
you looking like me looking
like someone I don’t even know.
Thousand-eyed night, ashen-faced night,
night like an angel’s arms spreading darkness.
There is you in the pad of each finger,
heel of the hand, wrist’s bony bridge.
There is me swelling with tension.
There is you with your tiny pin.
There Is No Soft Place in the Children I Know From Memory
The rough hands return,
sweat-wet calloused ends of dreams
flying large and birdlike
out of darkness trailing behind them.
He sees a mouth working,
opening and closing steel-trap teeth.
He feels his shoulders held,
shaking, his feet off the floor.
In the distance a woman is crying,
her face gone soft and bleeding,
her hands limp beside her.
Now an arm rises on two legs,
a hand scrapes the skin of his face.
He feels the floor rush up to catch him.
The hands return again and again.
He feels his face turn wet and warm,
rising, then falling off in pieces.
His eyes weep their way
to blindness. His stomach heaves
against the blood coming down.
Desperate, he feels about
for soft places, crevices,
rat’s holes, anything to crawl
into, disappear inside of.
Hemmed in, he pulls his legs
to his chest, his arms around him
like a blanket, a door closing
on the one safe place he knows,
the place he’ll stay forever.
He was born.
He mastered words.
He didn’t always fit in.
Difference was not appreciated.
He seemed too effeminate.
He used few words.
Some said he was crazy.
They lied who said he had wings,
who said he claimed to own the universe.
Wickedness was drawn to him.
He tried everything once,
kept what felt good,
harmed no one.
He was misunderstood.
No one could see him
as he was before he existed.
Of course they killed him.
Left hanging three days
blood settled to swollen feet,
discolored, crusted over.
Black birds pecked out
soft tissue of eyes.
He came to something new,
the body of the dream unhinged,
a different kind of sense.
If he flew it was only
because the world wanted him to.