The Night


It is night, lithic languages line the wall and I am in the realm where I realize that I may be monstrous.

I am monstrous.

The night dictates: In this world and through all of time, some are loved more than others. Some receive more of this love than others. This love of others. Because the truth of history is that we don’t love each other enough. [1]

One eye is sleeping the other remains awake. I am like a dog, a pretend sleeper, snout on thresholds. I remember a jury summons. I remember the mammal bearing down. I remember the keys living their life below a heavy stone. I remember the tale of the princess feeling the pea below her mattress. I remember something I wrote “…like a wild animal not surviving. Not surviving.”

The animal first emerged below a candelabra, and then again attacking me in a dream, in the form of two snakes that could fly. Then in the desert, animal bones coming out of the earth, I flew on the wing of a large bird. It was a dream, but I was not sleeping. In the bird’s mouth a Prussian blue. The bird swooped over an alpine village, eerie memory and idyllic mountain pastures. In the distance the blasts of ancient battlefields layered with cow dung and cow udders turned inside out.

The blue is now coming through the window. I am so lost the other world fetches me. I long for the fullness of a winter’s sleep, when bacteria enter the body and exit and carry the blue to other bodies. Loud voices mesh in the trees.

There is a rotating set of lovers, friends, strangers who lift their ghostly heads to gaze into my bedroom. Their demands are very subtle, almost negligible, making sure I still remember them. That I still respond or not respond. That I am aware of my contractual arrangements. In a circle, in a taunt. And with unguarded eyes. The light from the window molds a threshold, emphasizing the contrast between shelter and exposure, between safety and humiliation, and the fear that connects them to each other.

Have you ever reflected on power directly in your own home? Who sits where and why and what it means to make food from this vegetable rather than that one? How the cat gets locked in and then out? Why the telephone languishes at the center of the house? And then there are some books on display and others hiding, some magazine crossing the threshold and landing on the doormat. And the doormat says WELCOME but it’s upside down.

Narrow hallways that extend like birth canals, past mirrors, a large dining table, and the stiff white sheets against lunar blue walls. There is a clock ticking. The absolute intimacy that these rooms maintain after everyone has left. Truth is calm. It is the clock’s diversion while making a plan. Here is the full body. I have not shown it to anyone in years. This body that is alive whether you look at it or not.

The houseplant has been moved around several times in an attempt for optimal light and temperature and, of course, with an eye to its decorative potential. The houseplant, since its arrival eighteen months ago, has developed six new leaves. The new leaves are slightly reddened and gleaming, almost perky. The older leaves with yellow spots hang downward.

The unfavored food is in the trash. My disappearance will not be noticed because no one has been to the house for months. I lie down. A woman lies down and is carried on a flat wave, not dead, just resting. Do you know a rest from yourself? The boundaries, consequences, and treachery you must bear? And that are all over you, like a smell. I have waited very long to be shown something by the hand that is not mine. I assess this statement: “I do not owe you anything.” It causes me to convulse. All I have known is debt and balance. Only the night in its fury, its rampant stillness can love me now and its love is a carelessness for time.

The room is messy. It’s a tired chaos, one that does not really understand itself, random papers in various corners, a single shoe, cables that lead nowhere, and a group of grimy coins. I killed a hornet with Nancy Spero’s The Torture of Women. The hornet had crawled towards me, very slowly and along the yellow wall. It was furry and I first mistook it for a spider. A spider that I didn’t mind. But with the event of murder hornets, I have also trained my eye further. And I am certain that all this boils down to a general death phobia that stalks this civilization.

There are letters somewhere stored in a shoebox. Life reduced to a shoebox. But why say "reduced”? Maybe life has become uncontainable, so that only the smallest of boxes can be conjured. There are bundles of letters in boxes, and if you were to read them now, leisurely, scanning the handwriting, lack of dates and missing pages, you would say this is a person struggling, a struggle manifest in the handwriting, which changes with each page in size and angle, at times diligently small and legible, at others widening and cursive beyond anyone's recognition. You may think this is a person who had a lot of addresses. The letters in boxes emphasize a disappearing air, archival sentience long after someone has passed. And the paper of each letter longs for its own existence. Correspondences turned into elegies that did not yet know of their abandoned condition in a basement of the future. They are sorted and bound.

The plant had its roots trimmed before I took it to the house. Now every angle is too much light, and every watering is too much water, and every day of no water is a desert and so the plant is dying in front of me with a kind of reprimanding aura.

Whose plants are you watering?

Whose houses are you occupying?

The worst kind of sleep is the one that does not come fully. I want to include some night vision, animals by the litter. Of course, I must first ask what has led me here? What did I do to make my prison such a realm of roses? Once I believed that beauty would rule my life. But I am the kind of women whose world is all over her face.

Demons hang from the lids and have to be apprehended on equal footing, sleepwalking into the feud.

It begins with boredom and admittances: I lived for years in the night's admiring gaze. I ate large steaks and rode on bicycle across windy boulevards. I waited on my order and stole food from the kitchens, in which I worked, and never learned how to make the milk frothy, always sick with urine infections. I was a washed up portrait and served in a Russian café, where the owner, a professional violinist, played every evening and I had to pirouette the soup around his erratic elbow. I cut up the bread too thick and could never remember the sides and extras and in the end quit or bounced or got fired and went to the cinema instead. A photographer took my picture but did not touch me, and then did this dumb thing where he put raspberries on each of his finger, like in the Amelie movie, and I was supposed to laugh. That was his whole bag of tricks. A painter invited me to his house and drew my body in the basement. He had set the table for a three course meal; his wife dead or on vacation. It was also a way to pass time. I feared for my appendix and took budget airlines. I became a figure. None of it lasted beyond daybreak. The days spent in waiting, carefully arranging outfits, cleaning my face...

I can hear the whole neighborhood snoring.

A bird starts a frenzied chirp, so fast and consecutive that it seems impossible for the bird to breathe. A self-suffocating song. The chirp lasts for twenty-five minutes, and then, after a sudden contralto, falls silent as if swallowed by the earth itself.

I know that language also creates the world, and I sense the inadequacy of the one I am giving to you. Imagination here is not nimble but loops.

What if there is no story and I a bystander to the universe taking care of me?

I sense the temptation to divulge more and more of myself for which one eventually pays a price and gets a prize. And already I worry about losing your attention. Already I wonder what may be wrong with me for always angling from this deadly place, but the night is passed up and fibrous, admonishing me:

To know before whom I stand


[1] Cole, Teju. Interview. “Teju Cole : Fernweh.” By David Naimon. Between The Covers : Conversations with Writers in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry. May 1st, 2021. http://tinhouse.com/podcast/teju-cole-fernweh/

Yanara Friedland was born in Berlin. She is the author of Uncountry: A Mythology (Noemi Press 2016), Abraq ad Habra: I will Create As I Speak (Essay Press 2017) and Groundswell (Essay Press 2021). “The Night” is an excerpt from the novella “Book of the Sleepless”.