Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great Waters of Sleep

Small birds would only dream of laying eggs.
—Photo by Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

(a captain’s dream)
—Taylor Graham, Placerville

Spoiled brat. Tries to throw overboard
your cat.

Turn into the wind. Raise
the mainsail—quick—so the kid goes
flying off the rail.
Throw him a life-vest and a ring.
Swing back slow and drop
the sails.
Lower the bosun’s chair
so he can reach it by swimming
Haul him up till just his feet
dangle in the sea.
Give him lots of time
to meditate

on the grace of a sailing ship,
its captain, its cat.


—Taylor Graham

Your beautiful Poems on Slavery, which deserve
to be republished and read in heaven—have been
almost entirely suppressed.
—Elihu Burritt, letter to Longfellow, Nov. 6, 1843

Seven verses penned on shipboard in a storm at sea,
by a poet sailing back to a homeland
not yet shipwrecked—Civil War still years away.

Poems of a quadroon girl sold to slavery;
an old slave hiding from hounds in the swamp,
while squirrels and birds lived free.

Incendiary verse, offensive to the South.
Even in Philadelphia, these Poems were “omitted.”
Might as well say “banned.” Censorship,

“a meaner bondage” of the mind. How
can a republic survive without its poets? Elihu,
you knew the force of words

for rhyming truth. You’d publish
these poems to every town and village;
every free cabin in the West

should sing these songs. Dare a poet,
in a storm, swim with Justice
where the Slavery sharks abound?


Thanks to today's contributors, writing about dreams and the admonishment to watch where you swim. We hope to see you tonight for safe swimming (in poetry) at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, where the Rattlesnake Reading Series presents Jeanine Stevens reading from her new chapbook, Caught in Clouds, from Finishing Line Press, plus a shiny new littlesnake broadside, Cormorant in the Desert, from Rattlesnake Press by Trina Drotar. Free! Be there!


—Joyce Odam

Here is the new-born child
asleep in its dream
not yet known to itself,

a mermaid child
complete with
gills, fins, a sea-heart,

a girl-child, already wise,
though mute, who will
never cry, or sing, or breathe,

a child afloat still
in the blue dark—forever caught
in the combined moment

of life and death:
a perfect child—not yet held—
stillborn—returning to the dream.


—Joyce Odam

Somewhere in the mysterious now, in the
great waters of sleep, in the vast waters of

reality, a single whale is making its way
through—is making itself known

to the dreamer and to the one who is
awake, thinking these thoughts.

The thought-whale is freed of its impulse
to bob against some shore—a lost thing

in a floating night that is perilous and deep
—with no direction but oblivion—that is

freed because you have had this thought.
And the whale continues its unharmed way

with no knowledge of you—
the one who freed it . . . .

Do not change this.
Be proud of your power.
Never mind the wonder.
Accept the whale
as real,
for real it is.
It is seeking, seeking,
everywhere, to cure the haunting
loneliness you have recognized all your life.


—Joyce Odam

More than death with its hard, dark slats
: —what I fell through more than once,
what I straddled with my vertigo— :
a new and old reaction to the mind’s recoil .


You wrote of water—heavy and slow,
with tides—with under-silence—deeper
than you would go—deeper than that—
the surfaces you rose to out of drowning.


Sleep and waking do not always know
which is which: the dream between: the
vague memory of mirrors: the drift away:
the pull toward: —the step into another falling.


—Joyce Odam

We are lying together on an old blue couch.
We are dreaming.

You are floating beside me.
I hold on to you.

You are dying.
I am somehow connected to this.

I want to let go
but you are crying.

I give you a word and you close your eyes.
I wake alone.


—Joyce Odam

He sits astride
the fiercest looking horse on the carousel.

The race is on:
it is going nowhere—but the circles are

moving and his horse
is rising and falling better than the others—

the platform
shuddering—the music rushing them to the

end of the ride.
There are not other riders. He always wins.


—Joyce Odam

Her father, in a dream of waking
looks for his ghost-child
afloat on the edge of his memory.

He does not remember her
though he feels he should:
What was her name?

He tries to say it,
but she eludes him.
She says, Father, and he disappears.


—Joyce Odam

Clock, I consult you, red-numbered thing
that keeps my night informed—
grown into the wall like a smooth dark square

of other dark things—so anonymous there
in the vanished room that becomes
my somewhere else in sleep when I

wake through the night and automatically
seek you—note your numbers as I turn
or rise from my bed to escape some dream.

I’m used to you now—old silent thing,
the useful part of the dusty radio I never play,
old focal point of the dark.


Today's LittleNip:

—Robin Gale Odam, Sacramento

I am getting up to dream on the couch.
I am playing doorman to the cats that sleep in
the boy’s room. They are clawing at the bottom
of his door. I am scooping them up one by one.
I decide I need to change the poem’s tense.
I dreamed in the early dark morning.



Dreams, like mirrors, see life backwards.
—Photo and caption by Carl Bernard Schwartz