"THE SNIPE HUNT" by Mary Stebbins Taitt (click image to view larger.)
Winged as a curlew, long-beaked as a woodcock,
sleep whistles and dives through the shattered night.
Searching, I scrabble through dark swamps
reeking of marsh gas and fœtid with the smells
of rotting fish. My song bursts with yearning,
alternating chipping, burbling and fluting sounds,
like a sparrow held under water. My pleading
tastes of the raw shrimp and crayfish I wave
in a mesh bag. Snipe bait. Muddy ooze seeps
cold through the knees and hem of my nightgown,
black muck and slime cling to my fingers and toes.
Burdocks, stick tights and beggars ticks
burrow in my hair. I carry a snare for the snipe
of sleep, but when the bird swoops by and I reach
to snag it, my fingers pass, ethereal, through
a taunting fantasia of feathers, fog and clouds
of unborn sleep that drifts past, damp, intangible
and utterly unattainable. Snipe dreams tumble by,
hauntingly near but always beyond reach.
They refuse to descend into my wake-parched eyes.
I strain toward the gibbering voices of dream
phantoms. They talk in tongues, whisper
and twitter in mysterious dream-coded languages
and their aurora-colored feathers flutter
around my bed, falling like the warm snow of dreams
but never touching my face. Long snipe beaks
tear the night in strips, shredding it into confettis
of longing. The snipe of sleep will be neither captured
nor kept. It cannot be domesticated. Elusive, beyond wild,
it ranges over the incalculable waters of night. It turns
bedrooms into swamplands and sanity
into shrieking lunacy.
Mary Stebbins Taitt
A snipe hunt is a wild-goose chase or fool's errand. The term originated from a practical joke where experienced campers convinced inexperienced campers to capture a “snipe,” variously described as a bird or animal. The novice campers were given absurd methods of catching the snipe, such as running through the woods carrying a bag while making odd noises (snipe calls). Real snipes, shorebirds with long bills, are so difficult to catch for even experienced hunters that the word "sniper" originally meant someone skilled enough to shoot a snipe.
Perhaps if I could capture the snipe of sleep alive (and release it in the morning), I could finally rest. But if, sniper like, I shoot it, sleep will never come.
100417-1203-4b(12), 100416-2249-3g(10), 100411-1838-2b(3), 8/16/2007 4:37 PM
This and the previous version at the Rolandale Silk Creek Retreat House in the Hiker Kitty Room. NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Month)