Hannah Stephenson, “Good Night”

Good Night (from The Storialist)
Hannah Stephenson

What is the part of us
that insists
It happened that way

And then reads to us from that book
at the shore of sleep

saying, before I let you go
here is a tiny pail and shovel

Find the piece
that could have been altered
Start digging


We know the past. We really know the past. Our minds scream a certain narrative at us and try to bury a small, still doubt.

Well, “scream” – that’s the wrong word. The insistence has much more subtlety, much more power. It is a dream initiated by our lineage, in our blood if you will. It’s like our parents tell us a bedtime story of a narrative which is nothing but denial. That story carries over into our dreams. “At the shore of sleep,” confronting that ocean and depth which could be our own selves, one thing is certain. “At the shore of sleep” is where our wakefulness questions itself.

That’s the trap. A route to self-knowledge through oneself alone means ghosts will haunt. In this case, our parents-genetics-blood “guides” us. In telling us to dig and find the fault, it reinforces the narrative we tell ourselves. Something that could have been different can be found! All you have to do is keep digging. When you find it, you’ll know the narrative you told yourself was certain.

The reinforcement of the narrative undoes itself. We’re too childlike, our parents are conflated with our tendencies, our stubbornness cuts into our awareness. On that last point, we’re aware we’re blinding ourselves. Nostalgia is not always so romantic, but we’d rather insist we know our past than face the future.

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