Parasomnia, North Carolina

What is it that you see when you wake
in the middle of sleep? The veil
over your eyes, so the next morning
you don’t remember saying Did they shoot me?
I don’t ask anymore, you won’t tell me.
You’re ashamed of the nights
I startle the feral survivor in you.

Last night as your ear shone membrane-
red in the lamplight, my sudden shift
on the mattress was like buck shot
into a tree. You flew up and out
towards the closet. Endlessly

on-call in Afghanistan, your hours
were only punctuated with sleep.
Muscle memory—learned in Kajaki,
Musa Qala, near Sangin, in Marjah,
at FOB Zeebrugge and White House,
even at Camp Leatherneck—told you
where your gun was kept.

The look in your eyes said you were
still asleep. I wanted to ask who
I was in your dream. The loud sky?
The Pashtun man who eyeballed you
before they rushed your post? Boots
running over themselves?
The Jerusalem mule limping along
riderless before it knelt in the road
and exploded? The only thing my hands

could do was touch your chest
and tell you It’s me. Cold with sweat,
you always come back down. Fall
like a pruned rose back to sleep. I can turn
into a birth-wet fawn, flattened
in the steppe grass. I can lay still
and wait for those shadows in your head
to retract their fangs.


Gabriella R. Tallmadge serves as Web & Social Media Manager for, a non-profit arts organization. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Passages North, The Collagist, Devil’s Lake, and The Journal.