Words in My Head

Words in My Head

I go to sleep with headphones on
to keep the brain occupied
and the demons at bay

Those words in my head
fill up any cracks
that would allow the
dark to get in

Went to bed with a
heart so heavy
The breath would barely come

Months of isolation
from ideas
from contact
from people-watching and
from new horizons
Even the fumes were gone

4:16 AM
I heard words
A poet blazing his truth
His life
Lighting the dark

My heart stirred
My breathing quickened
And like an old furnace
My own words ignited once more.

The podcast I woke hearing — and which breathed oxygen to that dwindling ember inside — was a rerun of this episode of CBC’s Ideas: The Last Bohemian: Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

This post was created as part of the Poetry Friday challenge, hosted each week by a different poet.  Today’s host, Michelle Kogan, is celebrating a birthday this weekend!  Please enjoy her lovely poem on her blog and wish her a happy birthday in the comments.

Special shout-out to my friend and fellow poet, Christie Wyman, whose mutual love of Walden and writing has led me to my pandemic lifeline that has gotten me this far.

About the author

Karen J. McLean

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  • It’s been a hard 15 months. I almost wrote “year,” but it’s been longer than that, hasn’t it? In some ways, this where-are-we-at-? phase is almost as hard as things were during the heat of things. Your poem is powerful and I caught myself slowing my breathing and tensing my shoulders as I read it.

    I’m looking forward to my commute this morning, since it will give me uninterrupted time to listen to that podcast. Thanks for sharing all of this!

  • Karen, wow. Thank you for this poem here with your sweet honesty and vulnerability. I’m taking breaks to listen to the Ferlinghetti podcast to see who inspired this for you:
    “A poet blazing his truth
    His life
    Lighting the dark”


  • Hi Karen! There aren’t too many things that a person WANTS to wake them up at 4:16 a.m. Serendipity that you heard that. I esp. like “Even the fumes were gone” and your ending: “like an old furnace/My own words ignited once more.”

    • Thank you, Tabatha. The “fumes”/”furnace” imagery was one of those happy accidents that just fall out when you least expect it, and only discover when reading it over. Serendipity, indeed!

  • Karen, I love the raw honesty of your words. When we write up close to the subject, we create such clear and unambiguous scenes. You have taken us as readers with you. We know this shared experience and we are able to celebrate the simple pleasure of your joyful awakening. Your final stanza sings to me- ‘My heart stirred
    My breathing quickened
    And like an old furnace
    My own words ignited once more.’

  • Thank you for your beautiful words. They brought back a time in my life when I would do the same, going to sleep with words in my ears because otherwise I couldn’t go to sleep at all. Hugs to you from a stranger. (We don’t have vaccines yet in the country where I live so the hugs are purely virtual!)

    • I will take the virtual hug, for sure! This has been such a long haul. Thank you so much for your kind words; I am glad my post spoke to you. And yes — discovering that giving my brain something to chew on until the body wound down was a complete game-changer for me. I hope you are able to be vaccinated soon. Stay safe!

  • Thank you for sharing this. I often feel I could better avoid disturbing thoughts at night–your poem captures that. I would love to listen to this podcast and have bookmarked it. I love the metaphor of the heart stirring like an old furnace.

  • The list is long for these past months “to keep the brain occupied”, sometimes even worn and tattered thoughts fill space until, like you, poetry filled us up. It feels like serendipity at its best that Ferlinghetti came to the rescue!