dreamed July 4 (1975? mid-1970s) by Robley Wilson
The poem below is a small corner of my own dreamworld, a good bit of its magic eroded by the morning after. The residue of the dream--one dream, which I divided into three for reasons of bookkeeping--is the best of the poem, especially the last line of it.
Dream and poem grew out of a student picnic, held beside a river--the Cedar, in Iowa--in front of a house that at one time had belonged to a university colleague. What I most remember of that picnic, more than twenty years after the fact, is the discomfort of feeling out of place among men and women half my age. (That's always good for a poem, that out-of-placeness, even without sleep or hypnagogy.)
The dream simply made the picnic, its guests and its setting, into a chronology of illusions. The opening turns the water's real pollution into something ominously defeating. The poem's second section becomes, at that remove, more problematic (the bottles are the beer the picnickers drank, but what prompted the dead kittens? I wonder) and is nearly a tract on saving the environment. Section 3 resolves despair by producing--what? An angel, a muse, a faceless "you" surely inspired by a married student at the real event. Today I recall that it was a Fourth of July picnic; there were fireworks that must in my dream have murdered fish and kittens.
As for the two children, they may have been actual, or they may have been versions of my own two sons; they may even have been foreshadows of the two daughters I inherited years later when I remarried. In any case, they seem in the poem to stand for love and nurture and rebirth, and they lead to the poem's statement of what might be called "mystical optimism."
Now I am looking down on the colors
I take you to the kittens' graveyard,
What I've said about the poem's imagery is only an accounting, not an interpretation (which, in any case, would be beyond my powers). In its early drafts the poem was more than twice as long; probably it is still longer than it needs to be. That last line--I can hear those dreamwords in my head even now.
Three Dreams can be found in his 1987 collection Kingdoms of the Ordinary, Robley Wilson, University of Pittsburgh Press. His commentary is from Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams (ed. Roderick Townley, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998).
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