Conversations During Sleep by Michele Wolf

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Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (1997)


These poems, in an extraordinarily appealing and mature voice, create a web of underlying connections in our random and violent world. For the most part, these are family stories--birth, aging, death, first love, later love. As one of these poems says, they offer us, "with transparent/Pleasure, the power to see." -- Peter Meinke

What are our "conversations during sleep"? Michele Wolf insists that they are verbal equivalents of the visual sumptuary of our dreams. This poet shows us how to understand the world around us through the thrill of the senses. By vivifying the poet's dreams--waking and sleeping--this book tastes the world. -- Molly Peacock

Conversations During Sleep feels like a logbook of gutsy revelations, transporting us to a territory both ethereal and earthy. We care about the lives that nudge us awake in this dark luminosity, a heartfelt journey we don't want to miss. -- Yusef Komunyakaa


Cover art: Rousseau, Henri. "The Sleeping Gypsy." 1897. Oil on canvas, 51" x 6' 7" (129.5 x 200.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim. Photograph © 1998 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

"The Sleeping Gypsy"

a painting by Henri Rousseau, 1897

In the heat of her drearn, she hears
The iron kettle boiling, its scuttle and hum
As hurried as hoofbeats across a plain.
She drops in two guinea hens. Dancing
In a ring round her skirts, the children
Cheer, "Auntie, the English song!" Lifting
Her lute, she sings of the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumping over the moon. How the little
Ones hoot when the dish runs away
With the spoon. Ah, spoon--an uncloaked
Lute, it waits to be strummed. The temptation
Of spoon. The temptation of London, of Paris,
Of bumping along in the carriage with M. Philippe
In his top hat and greatcoat to visit
The peacocks, turquoise and gold and green, each
Roaming the Bois de Boulogne with one hundred eyes.

She sleeps in the desert, under a smiling full moon
That shines in the teal night. Quiet behind her,
A lion stands, tail erect, having sniffed
At her onyx flesh, at the ribbony stripes
His color-blindness darkens on her muslin dress,
All rainbow hues. She is lost in a dream,
Always happiest out of doors, without shoes.

Keep Going

I was led to the trees, as if someone with muscle
In her walk had pushed me. Heading
To the leaves--regal, molten with their final
Chance to breathe, Indian summer--I stopped
By the crowd shouting at the blue police barricade,
Mile 25. This was the moment, one of 26,000
Runners, you presented yourself, dazed and red-faced,
Soldiering on. Although I was too astonished
To speak, your name issued from me, the same way
A cut bleeds, the eyes allow us to see.
"Keep going!" I shouted, again without forethought.
Slowly, your mouth fashioned my name, then
You continued, working to control your body,
Pushing on through a life out of control.

"I can't sit still," were your words, so urgent,
Serving as much as a plea and apology as a goodbye.
Yet it is the way we would sit together
For which I remember you. We would talk only briefly
Or not talk, leaning against each other while the light
Turned to darkness over the Hudson, until we were sitting
In darkness, and one of us, without any active thought,
Might quietly speak, or rise to turn on a light,
Or move closer to the other, as if the darkness
Itself had spoken and thought were held away
Like an outsider, standing outside a barrier,
And we were not going anywhere. We were inside.

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