Poetry Classroom: The Wake of Our Sleep

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor Todd Davis. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Todd and each other, and write your own poems along the way.

What Lives in the Wake of Our Sleep

I dream of peaches on the tree by the river,
of my youngest son lost along its muddy banks.

When I wake night’s worry trails me to the bathroom
and later to the breakfast table. It is winter here

and the tree is bare. The peaches wait in the freezer
until my wife thaws them for cobbler. Each morning

my boy climbs the black steps of the school bus
and leaves me to what lies in the loose folds

of these sheets: the bed unmade, the mud untracked.

—Todd Davis

Photo by Pattys-photos. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Todd Davis, author of In the Kingdom of the Ditch


Discussion Questions:

1. How many meanings of “wake” can you think of, that make sense in the title of this poem?

2. Consider the word “lies” near the end of the poem. What might it suggest?

3. The dream is of peaches on a tree, but the tree in real life is bare. What do you make of it?


Great Teaching or Learning Resource on How to Read a Poem

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan 2


  1. says

    Todd, your poems are so personal, yet speak so universally. It is the best from which poems are made. For me, what makes a work inspirational is its reveal of spirit and your poems do this many times over. I chose to answer the first question: What is there in Wake?

    Sometimes our dreams do not seem like dreams at all, but it is as if we have only been asleep as we traveled somehow from visiting another place. And in that place was another awakening that went unnoticed. We just found ourselves there, a place where we needed to be. Perhaps it is a wake of something unresolved, unresolvable, the way a river spills itself, in a wake of sorts, onto its boundaries, forever changing them.

    There are parts from our lives that live on in us, out in the ocean of our living, while we watch the wake from whatever that is collapsing in front of us on the shore, wave after wave, at times in a crushing roar, or, some mornings, when the line that defines the world still hides itself behind an undetermined sky, the waves that are the wake of a memory far off in that sea, come to us like the voice of someone repeating so softly, only we are meant to hear.

    There is also the wake of farewell. A wake that is a celebration of the motion of a life, a stirring of memories into form, strong enough to stand up the living to carry the dead forward into remembrance, many memories shared as one. In this is a new awakening that life does not end, however abruptly it may seem to do so. There is presence we may not understand as we go about our lives, weighted in redundancy, joyous in escaping it. Dreams, however we fathom them, take us to that presence, if only briefly and obscurely.

    We remain to wonder why, in the winter of our lives without someone we loved. And dreams may only be what we make from memory, but in them is removed the separation of doubt, all its roots removed. In dreams is the fruit of Spring, where we do not question how.

    Thank you, Todd, for sharing so personal a memory in such a beautiful way.

    • Todd Davis says


      Thanks for the kind words. Not all my poems include the personal, and when they do, sometimes I worry that they will not allow other readers to enter. I’m glad and relieved that this poem, although very personal, does allow another reader to enter.

      As for dreams, I do find myself interested in them and drawn to them. I certainly never make a claim to understand them completely–what they are saying about my psychological or spiritual state–but I try to be sensitive to the insights they might offer.

      I very much like what you do with the associations “wake” provides.

      I also connect with you statement that “dreams may only be what we make from memory, but in them is removed the separation of doubt.” Since my father’s death 3 and 1/2 years ago, he has visited me often in my dreams. My physical separation from him, my grief, is quelled with his presence in my dreaming. I’m thankful for this small blessing in his absence.

  2. says

    Todd, this poem captured my imagination because I live in peach country. And also, the proverbial school bus (which I had never noticed has black steps, but it does).

    I love that “lies” can have two meanings. Mark Salzman made good use of that in his book “Lying Awake.”

    But it’s the “mud untracked” that haunts me. Why isn’t the boy tracking in mud anymore? Is it because it’s winter now and he’s on the school bus? Has he grown up too much to care for mud?

    And peaches in the freezer–they’re so sad. Honestly, do you want cobbler in February? No! You want cobbler in June, when the peaches are fresh from the farmer’s basket.

    So, what is the narrator trying to retain that’s been lost? What is disturbing his sleep? I think it’s the boy–“lost” and “left.”

    P.S. This one’s a keeper.

    • Todd Davis says

      Ah, Megan, lucky you to live in peach country.

      When I was growing up, our family had 40 acres in southwestern Michigan. I miss living in orchard country.

      We always plant fruit trees wherever we move, and my father’s favorite fruit–not from the grocery store but from the limb of a tree–was a peach.

      You are correct to pick up on the issue of that untracked mud. This poem was written in response to my boys growing up and “having” to go to school. It meant that many impromptu adventures during the school year stopped.

      So, yes, it’s the boy “lost” and “left.”

      And I agree with you about that cobbler in February, but I’ll take the frozen peaches made into cobbler in February over what I can find in the grocery.

      May the summer fruit be upon us soon!

  3. says

    I’ve read this poem several times, each time finding it more moving.

    There’s a wonderful interplay of the lost and the found, the simplest of pleasures (sitting on a river bank, eating peaches, being at one with nature) and that haunting “night’s worry” that we can never quite shake (“trails me…”) when we have to get back to the business of daily living. I also appreciate the echoes of that dark something in the “muddy banks”, the “tree bare”, the “black steps” and the dream to undo it (time’s passage): “the bed unmade, the mud untracked”, as if we might somehow think or feel our way back to what once was (the unfreezing or thawing, as it were). I also like the sense of search and discovery implied in “leaves me to what lies in the loose folds”. What is it our dreams “wake” us to and what do we find once wakened (reality)?

    Just altogether lovely and poignant and thought-provoking.

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