Sleep: Two artworks by Coco Spencer

Sweet Dreams

Water Bed

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Coco Spencer is a mixed-media artist who specializes in analogue collage. She is originally from California, now based in Chicago. To see more of her work, visit cocospencer.com

You can also find her on Instagram.

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Sweet Dreams and Water Bed were published in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill magazine. Read the full issue here.

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Loneliness Is a Half-eaten Energy Bar

-Ankur Animesh Surin

The half-eaten energy bar 
peeks at me when I 
open the fridge 
at night.

Cold escapes in a wooly flight,
disappears around my ankle.

I could have sworn it swirled 
an anklet around, 
tying my fate to the bar,
before disappearing in search of shadows 
in my LED-flushed room.

Domestic adventures that last 
less than two minutes 
deserve no post-it mentions 
on refrigerators, so
I take time and care 
to boil my noodles 
— self-love doesn’t conquer carbs.

The cool of darkness is reassuring.
A room bereft of memories
is a sore sight. 
My eyelids scrape off what remains of 
the emptiness lit 
by nosy street lamps projecting 
silhouettes of restless mosquitoes.

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Ankur is a cinephile, photographer, and writer-editor. He loves Asian cinema and swears by Tsui Hark and Johnnie To. He is working on a fantasy novel.

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The poem appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April Special Issue. Read it here.

Tonight’s Ghazal

– Tenzing Palyon

I read a Dalit was dragged till her skin peeled off,
But my back will find a mattress tonight.

The drunk across the street has locked his wife out.
She isn’t sure if sleep too would mock her tonight.

The glare from street lamps lays sand in their eyes.
“Get the lights, Darling. It’s your turn tonight.”

The tribal girl scrubs the floor and then sleeps on it.
The employer has told her to sleep on the bed tonight.

Stars have lined up in a pageant across the sky.
Yet many can’t afford to dream tonight.

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Tenzing is a member of the faculty of the Department of English at St. Claret Pre-University College. When not immersing himself into Dalit literature, Tenzing thinks of creative ways to teach his students. You can find Tenzing on Instagram.

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Silent Company

– Tenzing Palyon

Around the bustling side of a city where billboards with few sentences inscribed on them stood like monuments and a hundred feet below pieces of paper wandered with undecipherable letterings like vagabonds; where during the active hours, the buildings enveloped emotions and aggressive drivers introduced two-legged freighters to lessons on pedestrianism. 

Surrounded by the razzle-dazzle of the city, one night, a man struggled to sleep in a parking lot. He felt miserable, lying there like an ignored dead body in a mortuary. His shawl was long enough to cover his feet but its width was not enough. His elbows spilled out like ears.

He could see the effulgent floodlights on sky-rise buildings and frenzied bats that moved like blurs of shadows. If he stared at the night sky, he could spot the red light blinking beside the white ones. It was close to midnight and he tried to sleep, pressing his eyelids against each other to form an umbra. Closed, the back of his eyelids created a firmament where he tried to lose himself among planets, stars and galaxies. This creation of a universe by shutting off the world outside allowed him to forget his predicament for a while. But the weight of the lights was too much for his glabella to hold. He wished there was a switch-off button he could press. The intruding white light tore his pressed eyelids and halted the conjuring. 

For him, to sleep was to lie against any hardened surface he could find. He didn’t need a pillow or much comfort to persuade himself to sleep. He needed just two separate pieces of cloth to sleep all his life, one which he could use as a bed cover and the other to cover himself with. From afar, he would look like a human eye. He was a slave to melatonin like most around him obeying the command of a mechanism that repeated itself every night. That night he couldn’t sleep; he had to stay awake. It was his first day at work. With each minute he felt like his body was aggressively demanding his company, trying to talk to him. He tried ignoring the constant request for companionship that was extended to him with a yawn. 

He understood sleep in terms of a pseudo-scientific analogy that seems ludicrous now. He wondered how one could stay awake sleeping. Sleep reminded him of a Ferris wheel at a fair. The ride made him feel calm until it gained speed.

Sleep has laid down many foundations in the history of human beings, he thought. In his various readings of texts and hearing of stories, he remembered instances where individuals had written dossiers that they had dreamed in sleep to alter the world. These individuals lived in a different world in their sleep and compared the conscious world with the unconscious. He saw them as revolutionaries. 

The bandicoots scuttling around him were surprised to see something so big lying in their domain. The rodents peeped through their secret burrows, which during the day looked like tiny fissures. The chirping of crickets seemed never ending. The water drops were a constant reminder of the degradation of the building. One could hear the drops only at night. The wind was chilly, and the dust blew like a sand storm. The pungent air was a mixture of rotting garbage that did not mix well with the stench of diesel. The careful whispers and the light promiscuous banters found their way through the main gate. The tress and its branches looked like burnt arteries ferrying the daily load of the city’s pollution. The buildings surrounding him looked like chess pieces frozen in time. The cool wind came at a cost; it brought dust along with it. He was told night was a decorated blanket bejewelled with stars. But that night felt like a labyrinth. He tried hard to imagine a ‘jhoomar’ inside an enclosed dome to light the many paths in this labyrinth. 

He was stressed and thought of how he couldn’t sleep any longer. He remembered the person whom he would replace at the job speaking aloud, “Sometimes, the best thing to do is to sleep, and getting paid for what you do best is the most beautiful gift.” He remembered how his laugh echoed the room even in the morning. He had decided to start work that very night. He had nowhere to go so he tried walking around the street, but he didn’t feel comfortable because there seemed to be a price tag on everything he saw. He returned quickly and reported to duty four hours before his reporting time. He stood there waiting. He didn’t look at what was inside; it didn’t bother him. He was only trying to recreate how he felt when he slept with ease — the moment when everything colourful gets absorbed into darkness and then reverts to a colourful world the next morning. He tried recreating that moment but he couldn’t. 

Sleep was like falling into a deep dark abyss without fear, looking for comfort during challenging times. Sleep tends to heal both from the inside and the outside. A remedy for our body to feel fresh and rejuvenated. In the past, he had the leisure of sleeping for a good 8-11 hours and also the misfortune of sleeping for 3-4 hours on average for the past 3 years. 

He thought a new surrounding would bring a change to his sleeping habits, so he returned to “All Beings Mortuary”, which he remembered as the last place  he had slept without any disturbance.

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Tenzing is a member of the faculty of the Department of English at St. Claret Pre-University College. When not immersing himself into Dalit literature, Tenzing thinks of creative ways to teach his students. You can find Tenzing on Instagram.

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Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open now.

Hurry! Submit your entries.

Darkness and Beyond

– Icarus

There comes a time,

beyond twilight,

upon the fall of dusk,

when the city escapes existence

unto sombre slumber,

until the day comes to life.

Yet there breathes a time,

beyond twilight,

beyond the darkness,

its silence unbroken; when

the winds howl in suffering,

for all else is quiet and in dismal,

the butterflies caress the wind’s wings

no more;

words wade in the wind’s waves

no more;

I sigh with pain unto the wind

no more; as I lay hidden

within my deep slumber,

the winds howl in suffering,

for all else recognises it

no more;

the winds howl in suffering —

a desperate attempt,

at waking us up —

it screeches, “HELP! HELP!”

but you and I hear it

no more;

and the moon,

ah, the moon!

she breathes the loneliest of times,

a time and place even the wind cannot reach.

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Icarus is a pen name after the character from Greek Mythology – ‘the man who flew too close to the sun – and such is the purpose of his existence: to write words with his fiery feathers until he crash-lands into a dying ember. Fret not, for he is still close to the sun. It is a long way down until he writes about the death throes of his soaring wings.

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“Darkness and Beyond” was published in our April 2021 Issue. Read the complete issue here.

Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open. Submit now!

Numb Nights

-Samira Ahsan

I don’t know if it makes sense

To damage someone beyond repair

And put them on the fence.

I wonder if anyone can hear

The screams; fading echoes

louder than night waves

sharper than a prey’s fear.

Yelling in the pillow –

yearning to be expressed

But nothing.

Just failure.

If you can hear the howls I swallow,

Show me a way of life to follow

I sleep and sleep away my pain

But it’s always there when I awaken.

When you ask me why I don’t want to fall asleep,

It’s only because I have to wake up and

build myself all over again.

So far, I do, eager to free this chain

I sleep to escape, wake up to remain

Yet nothing.

All in vain.

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A nocturnal being, Samira studies Architecture and Design. She is a professional over thinker and a part-time procrastinator filling blank pages with contemplation. She is quite fast at typing messages but never picks up phone calls. You can reach Samira at samiraahsan20@gmail.com

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The poem appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the complete issue now!

The Winds

-Ashwika Chhabria

The winds caress me

So does the moonlight

My limbs stretched and free

I slip in to slumber and my dreams take flight

I’m pulled into the ground

With tenuous hands soft

I feel like I’m floating above the crowd

Seeing myself from high above, aloft

The blades of grass sway

Singing me a lullaby

I’m lulled asleep in the middle of the day

On nature’s bed I lie

The winds caress me

So does the sunlight

I sleep to dream and dream of sleep

I’m Icarus, but my wings will fly

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Ashwika can fall asleep anywhere, doing anything, except walking, perhaps. It’s a bit tiring to wake her up every time she dozes off before dinner. She hopes her poetry can rouse you enough to feel alive, if not sleepy. You can find Ashwika on Instagram.

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The poem appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the complete issue now!

Once Upon a Dream

-Sudiksha Kartika

I only truly wake when I sleep

When my breathing slows, my stirring stops

My feet slip into a world of mine and mine alone

Take my hand, dear traveler 

Here, soft grass whispers beneath our heels and pale-lipped buds tremble at our touch, peeling back to reveal sleeping silver sprites who nip our fingers

A litany of warbled singing spills from a lake as a scaled woman dips beneath its surface, her hair blooming from under like a flower

The scent of spring, youthful and fresh and naive, fills your nostrils and you tug a handful of gooseberries free from its branches and let it burst in your mouth

Somewhere, a cursed prince is relearning how to make his twisted limbs to move

Lovelarks sing their woeful tune and yet another pair of wanderers fall prey

We duck in the foliage as a herd of dragons burst through the sky, heading north –

In another world, sunlight spills through a half-opened window and dark eyes snap open, sleep still clinging to the lashes 

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Sudiksha is an aspiring poet and author who has a deep-rooted love for fantasy and mythology. She has had her works published in numerous zines and an anthology. You can find her on Instagram.

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‘Once Upon a Dream’ appeared in Pop the Culture Pill’s April 2021 Issue. Read the the complete issue here.

Submissions for our June 2021 Issue is open. Submit your entries now!

Helicopters

-Athira Unni

to see death in a petal of a flower

is to witness the garden reveal traps

mother’s wish is to send me to sleep

a three-day break I took from that

and counted curtain folds and tiles

when space finally happened between days

shut eyes saw neon honking dreams 

of fast-moving trains and suicides

of chocolate in a vending machine

that refused to open like my eyes

burning from a negligent purpose 

blessed by decaf, pills and a breathing app

waiting for the blast of sound in silence 

when A used to sleep all the time 

in his hostel bed even during exams 

and me unable to during exams 

now waking up to lights and scars

with wondrous leaves clinging to us

like dreams we brush off into compost

a collateral murder took place in sleep

a pimply child with his toy helicopter

once told me he wanted to die 

I took the helicopter and threw it

it flew a distance and kept falling

and falling and falling until it went 

to the place dreams go to die 

and on a blue quilt I made my home 

wrapped up tears in soggy cotton 

waited for my hair to fall and wake up

to the heretic field of death 

where sleep is the ferryman 

and I paid with sanity to sleep

and meet my monsters once again

this, the cycle of my eyelids opening

and closing to your face, is flying 

round and round and round 

helicopters falling from the sky 

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Athira Unni lives on coffee and thunderstorms. She is a PhD candidate at Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her debut poetry collection “Gaea and Other Poems” was published in September 2020. She blogs at chocolateandink.wordpress.com.

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‘Helicopters’ appeared in the April 2021 Issue of Pop the Culture Pill. Read the full issue here.

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Any Number of Platitudes That Are Beholden to the Sympathetic

Colin James

We have been waiting

in this hunter’s blind

since before 2 a.m.

Invisible to the wildlife or

they give us a wide berth.

We have tried to adhere to silence

pissing into a muffled trough.

Turns out, I don’t have sleep apnea

or even a very mild form of it.

Sat up when spoken to,

still lost very little weight.

Lay off the sidearm curve

instead bring the heat.

As regards to nectar, no

not even to keep warm.

These decisions have

already been made for us,

like kissing me good

night and good morning

to be absolutely certain.

The flowered blouse endangered

like the Marsh Sparrow

shoulders some responsibility.

Innocence has become vague.

My 2 a.m. wake up call

delivered with personal diplomacy,

you catch little naps when able.

The late bus won’t wait.

Back row seating is preferable,

scorned by the many clear thinkers

usually a space exists between.

Sleep is the odd one out

mistaken for thoughtfulness.

Daylight brings a graffiti blur,

the ectoplasm vomit of art.

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Colin James has a couple of chapbooks of poetry published. “Dreams Of The Really Annoying” from Writing Knights Press and “A Thoroughness Not Deprived of Absurdity” from Piski’s Porch Press, and a book of poems “Resisting Probability” from Sagging Meniscus Press.

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The poem appeared in our April 2021 Issue.

Submissions open for June 2021 Issue.