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To fall asleep, I replay as a loop in my head the three minutes and four seconds of Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations.

A flexed and continuous line.

In my dream: distant bell fragments fragrant with echoes.

I sit still on a train.

The landscape moves.

Smoke blooms from my father’s mouth.

At the frozen lake’s center, my mother’s hand is tense on a rudder.

Or is it the cold that makes her shake so?

The 1955 recording is one minute and fifty-two seconds—the melody rushes like the view out a train window, a strobe of tunnel lights amplifying the headlong pace.

Gould died of a stroke a year after the 1981 recording, as would my father a year after that.

The variations, I learned today, were composed for a patron besieged by insomnia, to be played by one of Bach’s students, Goldberg, to ease the patron to sleep.

My mother’s hand is on the rudder, the boat encased in ice.

Eric Pankey is the author of fifteen collections of poetry and a book of essays. He teaches at George Mason University.

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