Indigo insomnia is a shrine of candles on the street corner of sudden absence, their dying strewn with flowers and handmade signs. Sleep, a scraggly stray, breathes with its tongue hanging low, sniffing each offering of dolls dampened by rain. Pauses. Then scurries into the alley towards the other side of amnesia.

Mother never told me my auntie’s name was Juanita until she was near death, dying, or long dead. I can’t remember. I called her by her title, Ah-Ching: as in Mother’s Eldest Sister, as in Hidden Hurt, as in First Fire & Last Ember, as in Silent Shame Waiting Behind the Trees. We say the names of the dead more often in afterlife than during the departed’s lifetime. 

Indigo insomnia is the great waking, this birthing of the world anew. From the indigo, an even deeper blue, it is said(1). Perhaps this is why father hardly slept my entire childhood. His thin frame disappearing into the long white lab coat. A square photo of my face in one pocket, and a black pager in the other, both blinking as he walked his rounds until the gray-blue dawn.

The mouth holds many things except the language of the new, still forming between the lungs. The spoken vow we breathe, but don’t yet know how to defend. Scrolling through the phone, one sees mostly ghosts or the self, ghosted, an accounting of strings stretched and broken. Someone slightly out of tune. Wondering if your voice is in the wrong chord, the wrong song, the wrong language, or just a painting of the ocean, its roar muted by a gilded gaze that sees but doesn’t listen.

Indigo insomnia is diving into the deepest waters of memory to uncover the bodies hidden by our bad inheritance. My anxious study of patterns and vertices that squint for a brand-new design. It is to know that there are no saviors except for that one decision standing outside your screen door. During the pandemic, brown paper packages pile up on the front porch like an avalanche of grievances. Time slows down so we can notice. Every person I pass on the street walks with an abandoned child clinging onto their backs. I look into those round, wet eyes and my mouth feels the same hunger, dry and gritty with ocean salt.

The problem with numbers that count our deaths is that they don’t carry the smell of moss or fresh-cut grass from the bottom of your brother’s shoes. They easily forget that one is sometimes two, that bitter melons are actually sweet if you eat them far from home. You cannot hear the hours of static nor the quiet breathing of your mother swirling in clouds of dirty rice water between the long, wet grains and your cold fingertips moving in circles. This is why it is called lossy data.

Indigo insomnia is the truth asking for a ring in her latest ultimatum. It is stillness acknowledging the injuries painted over by the flag or a blight of bronze. The mass grave of bodies that rise beneath Christmas snow year after year. Their cause of death and elaborate cover-up, one in the same. In school we call it History, enshrine terror in red, white, and blue ribbons that we wear in our permed hair to match summer’s twirling dresses. Orchestrated fires pop across the black body of July’s night sky. Children gather to lick patriotic popsicles named after the bomb.

(1) From the classical Chinese work Hsün Tzu (Great Concentration and Insight) by T’ien-t’ai, 594, often cited by Nichiren Daishonin (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 457.)