On the Poem of Made and Unmade Beds

“Without grip or gripe, what bed thou hast, sleep in it, sleep, sleep, perchance to rest, for a sound bed is worth all the wine in France, all the beer in Germany, nay, all the ale in England.” (Polonius, The Collected Deleted Scenes of Shakespeare)

Introduction – the idea of the poem as an unmade bed:

Joe Linker on April 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm said
[in comment, having never heard of ‘My Bed’]:
But on the subject of Emin’s bed, which apparently last sold for $2.5 million, imagine a bed-selfie, and unmade at that, in such demand. But of course a made bed would never have fetched as much attention or money. People want to see unmade beds. In fairness, I suppose many poems are nothing more than unmade beds. But when did a poem, made or unmade, ever suck in $2.5 million in a single breath?
I may find myself later today attempting a bed poem.”

1: The Sonneteers

On the green barracks bunk,
a thin mattress on chain link
steel frame Army 30 foldable,
wrapped in ephemeral wool
as tight as a barnacle’s grip
against the red tide of sleep,
nothing personal save a letter
from Susan in the South Bay,
tossed into open foot locker,
touches the drab rolled socks,
no night light in the dull quiet
dark hall full of dunned boys,
roused by reveille’s mournful
made bed, hook up and wait.

2: The Makeshift Bed

“At Ease!
Thum that’s got ‘um, smoke ‘um.
In this next 30 minutes of instruction,
you will learn how to make a field bed.”

The sun crashed, and I climbed into the cab
of a deuce and a half, parked
in a field with a raw view
of the moon and the Pacific Ocean,
curled up in my fatigues
and fell asleep, my face to the canvas seat,
surrounded by coastal sage scrub
lit with a few Lord’s Candles.

3: The Water Bed

We drove down to Hermosa Beach and picked up one of the first
water beds, a giant surf mat. We took it home, put it on the floor
in the bedroom, and filled it with water from the garden hose
stuck through an open window. We went to sleep hushed
and soothed by one another’s jostle, canoeing over surf.
But early in the morning we awoke cold and colder.
The next day back at the water bed store, the guy told us,
“Yeah, you need a foam pad and a wood frame. If you sleep
on the bare mattress, you’ll wake up with hypothermia.”

4: The Money Bed

After the water bed experience,
whenever we needed a bed,
I made a frame out of 2×4’s,
upon which I nailed a sheet
of plywood, upon which we
plopped down the futon, a
bag of airy baffled cotton.

In bed, we are lodged in
one of two kinds of beds: one
easy to move, the other hard.
The hard ones cost much
more than the easy ones
and frequently must be
put asunder to move.

Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” now
takes several million dollars
to move, maybe so much
because the installers must
budge the bed without
disturbing the sleeper.
One might try making beds

for a living. People often seem
to prefer beds to poems.
Joyce sat in bed and wrote,
embedded in his spidery
notes and his family’s issues,
while McTeague’s Trina
slept solo on her bed of coins.

5: The Short-sheeted Bed

Some readers may feel
short-sheeted by this poem.
They probably would prefer
sleeping in their own bed
and writing their own poem.
Then again, someone may offer
forty winks for this poem.
Who will start the bidding?


  1. philipparees says:

    This starts in the bed place and ends out the door.

    Showing the Door.

    The Woman-who-thought-she-could-write
    realised (with her morning tea), on March eighth,
    that she had been misled.
    She looked at Language snoring beside her,
    his lascivious tongue flickering kisses…

    and wondered what she’d ever seen in him.

    In the early days he was lithe and spare:
    Lean as a leaf that could cut a thumb;
    moist as an eye in a crucifixion.
    The traps he sprung watered cheeks with pearls…
    Laughter bubbled unforced.

    His seduction had shaved pencils;
    spearing dark dreams like bats fleeing light.
    Now he sulked, demanded home cooking…
    Cracking bones, complaining…
    at a desk-top boiling all day.

    How had insinuation slithered
    (Persuading the Word to ape God?)
    between the smooth sheets of a welcome.
    The coral brained dish of endeavour
    turning black with nicotine.

    The Egyptians were content with an alphabet;
    awaiting Napoleon, planning parchment or paper?
    It was no big deal, sand would suffice.
    Millennia passed…
    chipping stone, slurping beer.

    Talk alone managed to trade and to travel…
    The river flooded without self-assembly instructions…
    Pyramids made their point, and were proved non-combustible.
    Who is Posterity?
    What is the fuss?

    Her garlanded Bacchus had grown obese
    snorting lines of attention;
    sweating metaphors sweet,
    astride his tortoise, bibulous, self-serving,
    as flaccid as the spittle sliding down

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Wondering the significance of Mar 8th. International Women’s Day? The speaker once enamored by a youthful tongue, hopeful of a lingua franca of poetry, while now father language falls asleep dreaming of his mother tongue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. philipparees says:

        Not ever having joined the sisterhood I was unaware of the significance of the date, but perhaps it was aware of me ( roughly resembling a ‘woman’). It was the day I realised ‘Language’ had seduced me, disappointed and now sat about demanding constant obeisance. The ‘mother tongue’? demands further thought. What exactly is it?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Joe Linker says:

          I don’t know what the mother tongue is. I barely know English, and certainly not the same English my mother knew. Something like this, might help explain, though it’s a bit long: “Words without thought may indeed be the lingua franca of heaven, thoughts without words the mother tongue of heaven.” In any case, where do we get language? And what is its initial seduction all about? Some sort of polymorphous perverse poem, no doubt, which, particularly when contracted at a young age, one comes to mistake for one’s mother. Or, as Norman O. Brown said, “The Fall is into language.”

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      asteriskos. one small star. going once, going twice… good night, Dan.


  2. bristlehound says:

    Inner-spring of 1990
    When money squeezed me tightly
    Was then I vast me eyes
    On a firm and wondrous prize
    A mattress did ya guess
    With pockets for me quest
    Of sleepin sound and snug
    Bidding riddance to the bug
    Crawling over me face and hair
    As each night I sought me lair

    Me life is brighter now
    What with bed not such a cow
    Un-made as it remains
    With the stink and all the stains
    It serves me like a friend
    With bounce that I can lend
    To anyone what has an inkling
    To sleep,to sleep but none of that tinkling

    Ode to the Inner-spring (for Joe)


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks, B. Another one who wants to sleep in their own bed and write their own poem. I particularly like the 2nd stanza. Nice to hear from you again! Long hiatus. Hope all’s well.


  3. I can see what’s coming – adventures in the bed memory lane … :) I like the makeshift bed.
    Maybe an anthology? I have some vignettes and poems that might fit.


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Yes, perfect, the fitted vignette sheet. The bed poem, too close to bedpan for comfort. Unless made up in deadpan, for which hospital corners are needed. The makeshift bed is best, the futon with a down duvet, loose, like free verse, never made-up. Sleeping well anywhere requires a certain skill or talent for letting go, not for the squeamish. So an anthology is a good idea. When the idea of a bed becomes an ideology of hospital corners, box springs, and sleep masks, no time for a catnap.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. philipparees says:

    Well! Such a profusion of sleep-easy inspiration, a veritable dormitory of options, Father Bear and Mother Bear and let’s see… I start the bidding at a night-and-a-half. I may go up depending on my companions. I have a sick computer, and an interview I cannot even view but after the travail of the next few days I will be ready to lie where my coat is already placed.


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Sorry to hear about the ailing computer. Probably just a virus of some sort. Let it sleep. Meantime, your bid is the high, well, the only, so unlikely to be augmented by the end of this candle flame post. I did have your inspirational reply to my comment over at Involution as part of the poem, before deciding to short-sheet the poem. I grew quickly weary of calling up all the beds I’ve ever slept in, and some of them required too much backstory. But I’m now thinking of expanding the idea into a novel: The Fourposter. But I looked it up and see it’s already been done, but with only one bed in the play. Maybe I’ll consider a novella of 130 pages or so chronicling nightly episodes from the point of view of various beds that run in and out of the story. It might begin with a motel bed: “Finally a night when I might get some cushion back, but no, here comes a late arrival, ready to drop dead on me, no doubt.”

      Thank you for introducing me to Tracey Emin’s work. I’ve not studied “The Tent” yet, but I spent some time on “My Bed,” read a few reviews and checked out the original art show reactions and found some of her other work. By the way, you can see “My Bed” live if you are anywhere near the Tate Britain. Thru June.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. johndockus says:

    My unmade bed pillage sore can’t dream and say more till the drop sheets swim and the sails run dry in the pudding can’t save a muskrat from the beading eye squint the moorings anchor thrust turn over the sawing evening in the dust squint find the overture interest coin in bum turn over piggy bank become in unspooling dream I turn over and finally fall asleep on a board amid this wreckage floating with my rubber ducky trailing down old man river.


    1. Joe Linker says:

      As I suspected, some readers would prefer sleeping in their own bed and writing their own poem! Maybe that’s what poetry is, sifting through the wreckage of the dream.


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