Tag Archives: Dream

Sonnet: ‘The Thief’

More than the actual loss, it’s helplessness
That we most loathe when suffering a theft:
The arbitrary way one daring, deft,
Brass act leaves careful order in a mess;
The knowledge the thief’s wilder and cares less;
The easy way he tears the warp and weft
Of dull security; the insight left
The cosmos can as quickly curse as bless.

Therefore the fears are mostly overblown-–
The thief himself causes no loss or strife
More than insurance or day’s work redeems.
But there’s a greater thief, and more unknown,
Who comes each night and steals one third your life,
Leaving no more than fingerprints, your dreams.

Sleep and dreams are so large a part of our existence that they seem to merit more attention than most people pay them. Sure, we need some rest, but we can get physical rest while awake during the day. So do we really need seven or eight hours every night to defrag our minds and delete unnecessary memories?

I like to think (this is close to “I believe”, but it isn’t belief) that there is something crucial going on that we are missing. The occasional “big dream” that resonates life-changingly. The dream of a distant loved one saying goodbye, before you get the news the next day of their death. The awareness that your unconscious is actually running your show, and that you better pay attention and assist where you can. All these reduce the apparent dominance of the waking mind, and open cans of existential worms. There are no certain answers. We are nowhere near understanding how our bodies, our minds or the universe works.

It’s all wonderful; but I still resent the amount of time I have to sleep. (And to those who say “It’s possible to sleep a lot less” I say “Yes, but at what cost? We have no idea.”)

I’m proud of this sonnet on a technical level. It is a true Petrarchan sonnet (iambic pentameter, and rhyming ABBAABBA CDECDE); the flow of words finds natural tiny pauses at the line breaks; only the volta, the twist to the exposition, is arguably in the wrong place, being strongest after the 11th line rather than after the eighth. But I feel it is all redeemed by a strong last line.

‘The Thief’ was originally published in ‘Candelabrum‘ – a magazine stolen by time.

Photo: “Thief Of Dreams” by Monica Blatton is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Liminal Vision’

Grid of Existence, seeming minimal–
unknown extent, intent–
all-ruling, always nearing, liminal–
imminent, eminent–

the great all-seeing Eye of all the world–
the oracular Oculus–
the Stick round which our candyfloss is twirled–
the incorporate Octopus–

most active in the gap between day and night
when half-light blurs the features,
the predatory time the Unseen bite,
the time of mythic creatures,

time of illusions and profuse confusions,
the pros and cons in thrall
to every problem’s conmen selling solutions
to solve and dissolve all

the woes and worries of our warty worlds . . .
The Hunter bounds, unbound;
the Eye, the towering Wave, forever curls
over our grind, our ground.

This poem has just been published in Better Than Starbucks which gives it a seal of approval. I’m glad of that because I find it a strange poem when I come back to it, always feel that I’m having to dig my way in. It was an attempt to capture some of the half-dreams and shadow consciousness that we can glimpse when we are not fully awake and in our quotidian lives. Our unconscious rules us, our actions, our desires, our health, but we conscious puppets have so little sense of everything that is going on within us. But sometimes, when you are right on the border between conscious and unconscious…

Photo: “Liminal Space” by Theen … is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Short poem: ‘Golden Childhood’

Golden girl on a sunset beach
With a dog and a horse,
Golden boy spears a silver shark
Under the sea;

Is such a dream forever in reach
Or forever false?
We stumble, emotional, through the warm dark
Back to the sea.

I wrote this in my 20s when I was saying goodbye to the Bahamas – my father had died, my mother had sold the house and moved back to Europe. For the next few decades I lived in Denmark, Canada, the US… but eventually came back to the sea.

The poem was originally published in Candelabrum. I always had difficulty with that seventh line. Originally it had “emotionally”, and I sort of justified it with the line itself being a stumble… but it’s a bad line, too many syllables, too many consonants. Sometimes when I submit a poem to a magazine, the editor points out a flaw, and more rarely, offers a useful alternative. Poems can always be tinkered with.

Photo cropped from “Girl riding a horse at sunset on Bali” by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘Dreams’

In the back alleys of our nightly dreams-–
Where cartoon murders repay debts of grudge,
And all’s not graspable nor as it seems,
And logic leers, then sneers and disappears,
And our warped lusts of power, sex and pain
Live stray cat lives, are killed, and live again
To yowl and fight, to scavenge, hunt, give birth-–
We overlay fresh civilized veneers
On age-old dynamos of massive girth.
So the thin skin of life upon the Earth
Cannot restrain the molten mass beneath
(Driving relentless change despite crust’s sheath),
Till, trampled and forgotten in the sludge,
Our empires are mere broken plastic toys.
Dreams run from us like cats from evil boys.

Dreams, the unconscious, one’s Muse… cats, ravens, the Earth… time and timelessness, change and continuty… so many of these ideas return again and again, always the same, always differently organised, a true kaleidoscope. And this isn’t a sonnet–too many lines, no pattern to the rhymes–even if it sort of feels like one; it’s more of a kaleidoscope itself.

This poem was first published in The Lyric. As far as I remember, its editor wanted the removal of the word “on” from the ninth line; they thought this improved the scansion, and the editor is always right so I allowed it. But I’ve put it back now, anyway.

“My cat running away from the camera #cat #iphone #cats” by gargudojr is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Odd poem: Margaret Mead(?), ‘Hogamus Higamus’

Hogamus, higamus,
Man is polygamous;
Higamus, hogamus,
Woman’s monogamous.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is American anthropologist Margaret Mead‘s creation. I have a clear memory of reading the story many years ago, probably in ‘Male and Female’, of her waking up in the middle of the night with an understanding of the secret of the universe. She grabbed the pencil and paper she kept by her bedside and wrote it down, then went back to the sleep. And in the morning she found she had written the above verse.

I was so certain it was Margaret Mead that I began this blog post about her before trying to check which book the verse came from and if I had the wording correct. (I last read Mead decades ago, and I leave beyond the reach of bookstores and real libraries.) To my frustration, all I can find in Google is attribution to William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, Bertrand Russell, Alice Duer Miller… and Mrs. Amos Pinchot, who allegedly denied authorship. According to Quote Investigator, “The first known evidence of this unusual anecdote appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in November 1939. The article ‘Thanksgiving Nightmare’ by Claire MacMurray (…) presented a supposed episode in the mental life of a person named Mrs. Amos Pinchot”, and tells the tale as I remember it. Mead’s ‘Male and Female’ came out in 1949, so (if the poem was in that book) it may have been referring to the Pinchot story, or it may have been something that had happened more than ten years previously to Mead, and she had shared the story and it had spread by itself.

The poem itself is brief, witty, amusing. It is rhythmic, repetitive, well rhymed, very catchy. Those are all excellent qualities. As for the content, it seems very 20th century: it gives the impression of having broken out of the conventions of society and church, and to be saying that the two sexes have differing needs for propagating themselves successfully. It is also 20th century in being simplistic. Where does the concept of serial monogamy fall? How does the rhyme relate to the LGBTQ+ members of society? The verse is definitely not comprehensive enough for the 21st century. But Margaret Mead was a controversial opener of cans of worms in the early 20th century, and that is where this little poem came from. Her obsession with gender roles and her self-deprecating humour make her a good candidate for its author.

And where the poem came from, apparently, was a communication from the unconscious, a gift to the dreamer. Always respect and preserve what the Muse offers you – who knows, a couple of lines of verse may be treasured and quoted for a hundred years!

“Sex and Temperament in three primitive societies” by your neighborhood librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: ‘We Dreamed’

We dreamed we could fly to the moon
With six grey geese pulling our sleigh.
We dreamed we could fly to the moon –
We can, but not in that way.

We dreamed we could see round the world
With a magical mirror display.
We dreamed we could see round the world –
We can, but not in that way.

We dreamed we could live forever
By doing whatever gods say.
We dreamed we could live forever –
We can, but not in that way.

It seems to me that anything that humans can imagine, some of them will try to achieve. Further, that the fairytale and fantasy dreams of preliterate days still continue, and they are indeed being achieved–though not necessarily as was originally imagined. Can we (or our descendants) attain indefinite lifespans? I think so, but probably not as the kind of human that we are today. After all, if you could halt ageing, if you could rejuvenate the body, what else would you think of tinkering with?

This poem was originally published in The Road Not Taken – the Journal of Formal Verse.

Photo: Southern Flight, Williraye Studio

Poem: “On Rousseau’s Dream”

Rousseau, The Dream

Henri Rousseau, “The Dream”

I will be a flutist
standing in the trees
with the lions and tigers
stalking past my knees;

you, my naked lady
languid on a couch –
is the tiger standing,
or is it in a crouch?

Enormous tropic blossoms
open in the heat;
your hand is out toward me,
the pipe I play is sweet.

You have no need to answer
if things are as they seem.
The scene will last forever,
A moment, and a dream.

Henri Rousseau’s 1910 painting, The Dream, is one of his jungle-themed paintings, and hangs in one of the world’s greatest museums, MoMA, New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It is very powerful seeing the original – for one thing, it’s big – 2 x 3 metres. But my immediate inspiration for the poem was the Chaleur coffee mug of the painting – the colours are brighter (or they were, until I put the mug through the dishwasher too many times), and the flute player is more prominent.  

Technically the poem is… well, ekphrastic, because it’s about a painting, or at least a coffee mug. First published in The Lyric, it is a simple poem; perhaps colloquially you could say it is in hymn format. Regular quatrains. Three iambic beats to the line, with an extra syllable on the first and third line of each quartet. Just like

“From Greenland’s icy mountains
To India’s coral strand…”

But unlike a lot of hymns, only rhyming the 2nd and 4th lines. That’s just me being lazy. The painting itself is far better (of course!). My poem doesn’t even mention the elephant, trumpeting away in the foliage…