Creative Writing Wednesday: “The Long Dark”

Posted: October 3, 2012 in Creative Writing Wednesday
Tags: ,

I have chronic insomnia. This means that occasionally, I can’t fall asleep. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible.

This poem was written on the day after a night when, no matter what I did, I couldn’t go to sleep. I was trying to convey the sensation of being low on energy, yet always needing to keep going. The poem itself is based a number of times when I had insomnia. It’s a composite of events– not one specific night.

I also liked playing around with non-linearity. I think the poem’s pretty good, anyway.


~ Ian


The Long Dark


by Ian P. Johnson





It’s not whether I want to sleep.

It’s whether I can.





I have entered the Long Dark, the place

where time is distorted. Nothing exists

save those three blinking numbers

on the bedside table, blinking endlessly,

watching over me where I lie.

(Not while I sleep. I should be so lucky.)


Time seems to lose all meaning here: I’m lost

on a sea of errant thoughts and drifting throughout

the universe, time’s arrow forgotten, entropy seemingly

halted. There’s nothing here but shadow and



I have things to do tomorrow, classes, friends,

dragons to slay and demons to repress

but there’s still nothing, nothing save the darkness

and the endless stream of nothing

that I float through.


I cannot get out.










I try to use stories to fall asleep.

Endless episodes of Doctor Who and Red Dwarf,

funny, witty British shows

streaming 24-7 on the laptop beside my bed,

a small square of light, a fire

to keep out the Long Dark.

There’s nothing for it.

The stories of Daleks and GELFs take on a dreamlike intensity in my head,

strange images of prancing madmen

dancing in the back of my skull.

Suddenly I know what it was all about.

I know what Grant and Naylor were trying to tell the world.

I pull out my notebook, turn on the light

but there’s nothing there, nothing

but a dying ember.

(Was that a dream? I think it was a dream.)

I don’t know. I can’t know.







Huh. Okay.


That didn’t work. Let’s try going forwards.





Now I’m listening to music, headphones on

so as not to disturb my roommate,

since he’s a light sleeper

and easily irritated.

It’s a form of sublimation,

of losing myself in a song.


It doesn’t work.

I am lost in the Long Dark.


David Gilmour sings about kicking around on a piece of ground.


I stare up at the darkened ceiling.





What are the laws of cause-and-effect? I don’t know. I’m thinking things before they even





I decide that, what the hell, as long as I can’t sleep

I might as well go see the sunrise.

So it’s down, down to the rugby field

where I sit, a fool on the hill,

the eyes in my head seeing the world turning round,

the stars dimming, Venus rising,

a herald of morning, a child of light,

eala earendel engla beorhtast.


The sun comes up in a blaze of violent purple-red.

The world lightens. Birds sing.

The darkness outside has ended,

yet I still haven’t left the Long Dark.


I don’t know if I will ever leave.





Now it’s breakfast, and time still hasn’t stopped slowing.

Everyone’s speech is distorted and weird.

The lady cleaning the yogurt machine says puuuuuuut yooooouuuur baaaaackpaaaaaack ooooooon the raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.


I blink. I’d forgotten I was wearing it.





Morning lecture. I want to sleep. I can’t.


I’m looking out at the world through a plate-glass window

slicked with rain, all the people distorted and fuzzy,

swimming in a haze of watery color.


I don’t think my body is my own anymore.


I cannot break free.


I’m lost.


The Long Dark continues.





Everything is perfectly sharp and crystal-clear.

My body is so full of energy that it’s like an exquisite pain,

filling me up so much that I can taste it

like battery acid on the back of my tongue.

I have come to a realization: nobody I see is real,

nobody exists, we’re all just atoms and space dust

and balls of entropy that think we have souls,

and if I were to just wind up and punch someone

then it wouldn’t matter, because it would be just like

hitting a rock.


They’re not real. I’m not real.





A friend asks me, looking concerned, Are you on drugs?


I blink.


What is a “drugs”? I ask.


What is a “you”?





Night two of the Long Dark.


I don’t know how long I can take this.

At least I have my two friends, Bertram the Hyrax

and Abdul the Egyngolia (the last of his kind,

a genus of trilobite that went extinct in the Paleozoic)

plus my secret favorite, Helena the Harmonica-Playing Ukelele.

They sing little songs to me, all through the night.





I know how to control time. I can go back to the beginning

and stop this from happening. I can control the timestream.

I am become God. I can save





Echidna and the Coconut went to a Sunday Fair,

Echidna and the Coconut wore ribbons in their hair.

Echidna said to the Coconut: “My sky has but one star:

For you, my lovely Coconut,

yes, YOU, my lovely Coconut,

is the loveliest ‘Nut there are!”










Finally. Sleep.


Blessed, blessed sleep.



The Next Day


I go about my business, going from class to class. Even though I only got about three hours of sleep, somehow I’m able to function well enough without drooling or falling face-first into the baked ziti at dinner, which I count as a success. Finally, when the day is done, I lay my head down, close my eyes, and wait for sleep.


But it won’t come.





I have entered the Long Dark.



august 30, 2012


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s