Poem of the Week

Curing Insomnia With a 65-million Year Perspective

Nights I become very small, says Raquel Chalfi, thinking of mass extinctions, and dozes off to a very long view of time.

Pteranodon, a flying reptile eradicated off the face of the earth 65,000,000 years ago. Heinrich Harder, 1916, collector card issued by the Reichardt Cocoa company in Hamburg.

Sixty-Five Million Years Ago

Raquel Chalfi

Sixty-five million years
seven tenths
of all life forms
were eradicated
off the face
of the earth

I become very small
the dark renders me
in the right dimensions

I turn into
a tiny islet
hungry for sleep
and wishing
that the great waters
do not
flood it

From “Reality Crumbs: Selected Poems,” translated from Hebrew by Tsipi Keller with an afterword by Dan Miron, Excelsior Editions at State University of New York Press, Albany, 2015

The world is eagerly awaiting the end of 2015 in the hope of starting over anew and doing better in 2016, as though the night between December 31 and January 1 were something that really divides one era from another. We got it wrong this time around, with carnage, cronyism and corruption, but let’s have another chance. After all, God is said to have given the world another chance after the Deluge.

When exactly was that? Some Christian theologians put the Noah story  2,500 years before the birth of Jesus, or 4515 BCE; some Jewish calculations put it at 1,656 years after Creation or – subtracting that from the current Jewish calendar year of 5776 – 4,120 years ago.

The difference between these 4-digit numbers is less than a tiny speck in the eyes of the paleontologists, who calculate the time that has elapsed since the lastmass extinction event – in eight digits: 65,000,000 years ago, or, as of January 1, 65,000,001, when at the end of the Cretaceous Period,  something major happened that, as the poem says, eradicated about 70 percent of all extant plant and animal forms -- dinosaurs, other reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and marine life.

Scientists don’t know exactly what caused this. The theories range froma catastrophic asteroid strike to to volcanic eruptions. But they do know that in the ensuing millions of years, new life forms evolved, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, paleontologists and all other humans.

In this poem, the long time span gives perspective to a tired poet trying to fall asleep at night by imagining herself into a bigger picture than her daytime life: “I become very small / the dark renders me / in the right dimensions.” Dropping off to sleep, she experiences the natural human fear of being washed away into oblivion and not waking up. We know however that she does wake up, because this happens on “nights” – every night, not just one.

Raquel Chalfi, from her film 'Possibility of Bluebeard and Me.'

As Dan Miron observes, Raquel Chalfi’s work focuses on “the place of human existence within the wider framework of a universe awash with elemental energies.”

Tel Aviv poet, playwright and filmmaker Chalfi has published 17 books. Miami-based novelist and translator Tsipi Keller has published nine books.

For 2016, we wish readers and everyone peace on earth, goodwill to men, women and children and a good night’s sleep.

*Bonus: At the 1970 San Remo Festival, Sergio Endrigo sang the deluge-inspired hit, L'Arca Di Noè.