Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 5, Number 4, December 2011

Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand


Night Sleeper

Wyeth's dog, Nell Gwyn, lies in the moonlight on the living-room window seat in The Mill like a weary train traveller rattling past an eerie moonlit landscape. Her head rests on a sack tied at its top, striped a faded blue. Nell's eyes are slits—wary, almost menacing—slightly open.

The dog's dreams are nightmarish. Through a window to the left, the moonlight is ghostly on the gristmill, like the flash from an atom bomb in the second before the shock waves hit. Through a right-hand window, this light strikes another overflow—the shallow dam in the Brandywine River where the British crossed in the Battle of Brandywine.

thinking about
the story behind the painting
I remember
my first journey by train
and the glare of searchlights

My thoughts are drawn away from the painting to a memory of my childhood in war-torn London when many children were evacuated by train to the safety of the Midlands and elsewhere. I'm lost on the station platform and a guard gathers me in his arms and takes me to the guard's van where I'm lifted onto a pile of luggage for the journey north. I peer out of the window. Smoke drifts past with its overpowering smell. Passing before me is an alien landscape of fields, forests and farmland containing cows, pigs and sheep. I fall asleep to be woken by bells and whistles and the final destination—a nightmare for a young child taken from her family to unfamiliar territory.

from the station
an unknown lady
takes me to her home
boiled eggs for tea and a box
of buttons to divert me

my fright deepened
by a picture on the wall
of Jesus
gathering the children
of the world to his breast

Based on the painting "Night Sleeper" (1979) by Andrew Wyeth.

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