Sleep Not Sleep
by Harvey Ellis

Wow! Lovely. Stark. Rich. Strange. I’d say these poems spy out the mind’s quickest turns and flights and falls. They are comprehensively alert in the present of their making, even as they range widely in subject matter.

Li-young Lee

Way too many words are used these days which is why it’s a pleasure to find someone who observes the presence of each word in a highly singular fashion. Harvey Ellis is masterful in Sleep Not Sleep to let this kind of singularity fill each word with a greater impact. It truly allows the reader to be involved not as an observer but as an active participant in a highly rapturous moment, a moment of discovering the unknown. Like all reality, this moment is filled with more space than words, more absence than presence, and it is just this absence that Ellis begins to speak with only the slightest of sounds. That’s why, if you’re a good listener, you can’t help but hear your own self coming alive.

Paul Roth, poet, editor The Bitter Oleander

poems from sleep not sleep

my ancestors surround me
like walls of a canyon
stone hard
their ideas drift over me
like breezes at sunset
we gather sticks
and make settlements
what we do is only partly
our own
and partly continuation
down through the chromosomes
my son
my baby sleeps behind me
stirring in the night
for the touch
that lets him continue
he is arranging
in his small form the furniture
and windows of his home
it will be a lot like mine
it will be a lot like theirs
This poem, “ancestors,” was read by Garrison Keillor on his NPR program “The Writer’s Almanac” in October of 2009 which inspired the above image in response from Do Palma, a quilt artist living in Wyoming.

the round threshold

as he woke
his mind unbent
like the direction of light
coming out of water
straight was still
but flowed from
a different point
he could feel
the weight of it
like a weight of water
in an airless tube
even memory inclined
another direction
reaching back
the image was still there
but different
like rocks
on the bottom of a pond
yet where they were


and he said I don’t think
the leaves are laden with color
so much as they fall into it
little by little like the dark umbra
of the lunar eclipse lingering
above its fading light
she didn’t respond immediately
as if to disagree slightly
but then offered
to make tea which she did
dipping the tea bag in the steaming water
noticing how each tea leaf
in its lucent cell clung
tightly to the others just before the moment
it gave its briny efflux
spreading flavor
we expect from tea which she served
still saying nothing