How to Lie Awake: a recipe

by | Sep 19, 2019 | Creative Nonfiction

How to Lie AwakeI.
First, the body sits still for a long time, letting its head, that crystal ball, balance atop its neck as if this would banish the clouds & summon images vivid to be read aloud. The hips ache with yearning for motion, the knees durably right-angled, blood pooling in calves & ankles until they’re heavy & stiff. The body wants to move, & finally it does, & as if burning fuel created fuel, which goes against all the physics it knows, the mind speeds up, thoughts jogging along to the pace of the feet as the eyes watch to keep from misplacing them & falling—sudden & sharp—to earth.

Now the mind is both clear & crowded: pond refracting shafts of light deep inside its algaed, minnowed, tadpoled, snaked, turtled, loch-ness-monstered amniotic broth—its word is burgeon. Its word is galvanic. Charged with lungs’ hit after hit of oxygen, the mind wants to birth monsters, set them loose to trample with outsized paws the manicured, well-kept everything. What storm clouds it wants to sluice down the ditches—what mazy trails it wants its voracious children to hack into the undergrowth. The mind is almost outrunning itself, vertiginous, it wants to cackle madly but the mouth will not be recruited.

The mouth will not be recruited. It is busy breathing, thanks to the brain’s directives, which the mind, twinned but prodigal, can do nothing to overturn. Even after the legs slow to a steady, earthbound ambling, after they are released for a while from their load-bearing, the mind jogs on, it feels so good, it could go forever. Its food comes from the eyes & ears, & by some alchemy, itself. Through the hands, it deposits larvae into blank, bound boxes, its hive of creation starting to buzz & quiver, soon to swarm.

The body requests rest. Its ally, the brain, reviews the case, grants leave, stamps the form, & files. But the mind will not be recruited. It is intoxicated with its beautiful, terrible offspring. It wants more: the lights go off, the room is quiet & still, the body lies still, shuts its eyes, but the mind will not relent. It flashes a storm behind the eyelids, it Foleys thunder to jar the brain awake. The mind tells the nape of the neck something has touched it, tickles the hair with something like breath. The mind almost convinces even itself, pinches, reassures itself, but then it can’t be sure—is that a furred & bloodied beast returned to bite the hand that made it? The mind turns to the body, the reasonable brain—Please, it says. Please tell me what I’ve brought forth, what crucible I am.

Photo used under CC.

About The Author


Jennifer Brown studied creative writing at the University of Maryland and University of Houston. She spent many years teaching college and high-school English, living on the campus of a boarding school, and teaching creative writing in summer programs. In 2018, she won the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the NC Humanities Council; the winning essay appears in North Carolina Literary Review, Summer 2019. Her poems appear in IthacaLit, Muse/A, CCLR, Rumble Fish Quarterly, and Stonecrop. She blogs on and at, and exists on various social media as @oneofthejenns.