Tag Archives: The Lyric

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…

New Poem: “My Eliza”

The latest issue of The Lyric is out – although I won’t get my copy for weeks or months yet, depending on the Bahamas Post Office’s mood and inclination – and apparently “My Eliza” has been awarded the Leslie Mellichamp Prize (with $100, no less!). Judge Michael Ferris wrote: “A smart and charming love poem with island images (I learned some new words) that finishes on the striking picture of two sea otters drifting hand in hand.” Of course I’m delighted! So here it is:

My Eliza

As through Canada I wandered,
Winters cold and summers cool,
Companionship precipitated
Out a girl wild, beautiful.

Come, she said, share games and reading,
Come and play and let’s share beds;
Let’s move south for warmth and business,
Raise our children, use our heads.

Eliza with the hair like lightning,
Hair like ragged moonlit clouds,
Like a cloud of wild mosquitoes,
Junkanoo’s drunk noisy crowds.

Sexy, vital, dogged, honest,
Game designer, engineer,
Eliza: genius aphantasic,
A no-see-um who sees clear.

Now like two strays by the roadside,
Like two potcakes on the beach,
She and I will scrap and forage,
Take the treasures in our reach,

Clean up beaches, plant some flowers,
Read all books and plan things grand,
Roam through cities and through seascapes,
Drift like otters hand in hand.

Sea_otters_holding_hands

Sea Otters holding hands