a semi-critique of when boys sleep by miranda van amstel

Thesis: put dainty things in dainty boxes

​So this was the story that made me want to stop studying and work in a factory. I did for a few months but became bored with factory life and returned to school. I ended up changing my studies from Literature to Structural Engineering. I realized while working in the factory that what I really wanted to do was design boxes. All types of boxes. Boxes for large objects. Boxes for dainty objects. Even boxes for other boxes. I do have a job now designing boxes for dainty objects—objects smaller than the average sized human hand. I think of this story as fitting within one of those small boxes, pushing slightly against the inside, and then unfolding out slowly when the box is opened. Almost shyly—if such an unfolding could take place. But before you opened the box, if you put your ear to it, you would hear the faintest of breaths as if something were using the small amount of air in there. You might ask if this is a dainty story. After all, it fits inside a box designed for dainty objects. But to be fair, it would go too far to call it a story. It would go too far to call it anything for fear of damaging it. It doesn’t hold up to the weight of other words. However, if you let it be to use up the little air it arrived with, then it will live for you for a short while before passing into obscurity.

-- Miranda Van Amstel

“The Unknowed Things”



When boys sleep, birds lift their wings to still the branches of trees.

There are events which take place before and after the end. Should a man enter the two spaces formed by these four boundaries he becomes lost for a while. Not very lost. But lost enough to think that he has taken this life for granted. He makes a promise to himself that before the next end, each minute he lives will burst from the amount of life he shall fill it with. He makes this promise secretly—while looking through the window of a bus or standing alone in the corner of an elevator.

He reasons at such moments that he is not very lost, after all, only a little. But in this reasoning germinates the tragedy of being only a little lost. He orbits the earth and seeing it just over there suffices.


When boys sleep, the majesty of their dreams are revealed in every drop of rain that falls, in every molecule of air that touches human face, in every cell that glides beneath human skin.

Today the mailbox is empty and I wait for a response. To think about the small room and just outside a forest of blueberries. The white desk. The photo albums and the diary with missing pages. 

To think about the short walk to the river. Too long have I suppressed the memories of this life. Of the tree that fell and cleared a path through the clouds. A path to the future.

I make preparations. But in this room, the clouds are darkened by our shadows. Something happens here as Juliet blows the feather from her hand and I watch it float from the window onto the grass. With each turn in its descent, an old room in an old city and the horizon measured by old windmills, the sun three windmills wide and growing, the room five windmills slow as if a ship of long and faithful suffering.

We trace these movements to understand that our happiness is found in the smallest moments of doubt. In the nimble. In the crane on the horizon upon which a boy sits and spies us from the distance. In the faded and opened hand of a woman that can never be drawn again.


When boys sleep, the universe descends on mankind and for a short while the world trembles with meaning.

Metaphysics, it has been said, is an unwieldy feather and so we must sublimate the chaos of patterns created by the accidental motions of this feather in order to give us an image that approaches that thing for which there is no word.

But this feather is used in many ways. When Juliet moves it along my spine, I think about the room we are in and the window from where I see her bicycle leaning against the tree. When Juliet moves the feather along my spine, I think that I have lived in this room my whole life. With her. Between the soft, white blankets. In the melodies of Chopin. On the wooden floor. In the glass of water on the table through which I see man’s caricature of time.

I feel her trace a question mark between my shoulders and we commit to each other’s subtle rearrangements in silence. We know we are cursed, if only for a short while, to take our place among the living.


When boys sleep, the ruminations of future progeny fan our desires.

I sensed from the beginning Juliet’s proclivity for distance. I met her by the fountain taking pictures and I moved towards her as if of some other will. In turn she moved and barely so to keep me at bay. I said to her from where I stood there is a graceful way in which to view the gallows.

Juliet and I eat at three feet. We sleep at two. We speak at five. So before she speaks she will move away from me. But not now, sitting here on the bed next to me, she draws a secret language on my skin that I will spend my day deciphering. Soon she will leave. Later she will return, leaning her bicycle against the tree, hurrying up the stairs to see me again, her body less of breath that she will encourage me to replace.


When boys sleep, the truth veils itself so we cannot elude it.

The question mark is an ambiguous symbol. At one moment, a representation of deference. At another moment, of defiance. It provokes thought today and leaves the mind immobilized tomorrow. In all objects and gestures. In all faces and events. But at the end of all question marks, one will find a pause. A park bench on which to rest and watch pretty girls take pictures of bicycles and sailboats and of beautiful women talking quietly together by a fountain of horses in which their children play. In this place, such things are possible. The air is finer here. Our lungs more capable.


When boys sleep, the euphony of silence adorns our every word.

I knocked on the door and Juliet said come in. I sat down beside her on the bed and told her there is something I feel that I cannot put into words. Something about lions and long strands of hair. A pillow and a breeze. She said she felt it too. I took her hand and held it without speaking.

Behind us, the window framed the image of a crane on the horizon, upon which a boy and his sleep created all that was dreamed and not dreamed in this small patch of world that was ours.


When boys sleep, that which is immutable fragments and finds shelter in the dreams of children.

All one need do is peek through the window. On the crane in the distance, the boy sleeps in the dimly lit night. His face, an image of peace and love. In cities all over the world, known and unknown to you, when the sun sets and his eyes start to close.

In Rotterdam. In Dublin. In Glasgow. In Trondheim. In Bucharest. In Borås. In Helsinki. In St. Petersburg. In Shanghai. In Kyoto. In Lille. In Darfur. In Asmara. In Kuala Lumpur. In Ulan Bator. In Perth. In Bombay. In Lima. In Des Moines. In Alberta. In Juneau. In Skeldon. In Machico. In Barcelona. In Sarajevo. In Washington D.C.


When boys sleep, all that is beautiful in this world ascends.

Juliet and I ride our bicycle between the rows of mist. Above, a boy the shape of life and what it is to be living curls up and wrenches our plot asunder. A bobwit and allegory of pending trifles, he senses to me her ankle and supple calf, a whittle of such splendor as to make a weighty man no more than an ounce. But there is a strong gust from the horizon and we pound the grind racing, drifting onward into that orbit spoke of but never again, circling the trolley and the carriage and the flat boat on the canal, leaning from the bridge to drink where children play without surrender, a pardon, a sense of grace, turning and turning and turning.


When boys sleep, all that we have seen and heard and learned is returned to the place of its birth.

Bring out the trotters and me a captive in this room. Their bright regalia and nostrils of flame but fearful of those children who adore them. She (9 hers) pulls love from my mouth and cups it in her hands. We build a tree there and a sailboat of wood, a bicycle for two, a dock from which to leap, and with the flip of a switch, a bright and promising sun. We are afraid to move. While we are here. Closer and closer and closer we stand and in so doing, darken the clouds.

a semi-critique of when boys sleep by someone I sketched:  miranda van amstel