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poemoftheweek poem of the week



Renee Ashley

The Revisionist's Dream (I

Old as seawater. And the dream as large as a sea.
We dream like that. And longer than that. Wider.
And hear the sound of bleak bells like flat stone
on flat stone. We stand—our hands are empty
and the floor is steep, the floor is a deep sea
with fish like stones who call like bells. Like
brittle bells. And the song is running water.
And the water is rising.

And the prison we choose
is narrow, and we swear we never dreamed those walls.
So the way the light breaks out from the night
is how we break away, how we carry our lives
like a sack or a sadness—and we are merely river;
the water is sweet is shallow is slow but the dream
is dark and smoky, like a woman’s hair let down.
It winds like that.

The Revisionist's Dream (II)

She dreamed and the dream was of language. She dreamt
words had yellow wings, had a thousand delicate fingers,
had big tusks, had balls—that their mutable voices rose
from some distance and carried to her on a blue wind. No.
She dreamed of water. She dreamed of a single bright leaf
tangled in a dark stream. She did. But you can’t take

her literally, and the story changes all the time. Take
the time she told you about the memory: that she dreamt
the whole world was memory, and that the recollection of leaving
was really a leaving again, was motion itself like a dream, light-fingered
light-footed. That leaving was blue and red, had wings but had no
dreams of its own. And memory like that—like getting up, rising

from a favorite chair, your legs working, your body rising
with no more thought than the dream taking off from sleep. But she’s taken
some liberties; after all, it’s her dream—she’s dreaming it—and she knows
the dream itself knows nothing. The story changes all the time, yet the dreams
seem true enough—but truth is a fitful thing, time is quick-fingered
and slick; and she thinks time does have wings and is the color of truth. She believes

in at least a million truths and in time sweeping them into a heap like leaves.
She believes that most of all. And she’s certain that new dreams rise
from the gathering, use their wings like fingertips,
like the dead waking and, somewhere between rest and will, taking
up their touch again. But no, it’s foolish to believe her. Her dreams
are pale language—but there’s still the sky, the white, nomadic

clouds, their silhouettes against the blue, their histories, what nobody
expects of heaven. No: it’s different. The dream is exactly the size of her life. And ordinary.
       It leaves
the enormous and abstract aside, calls up the hard, black, dreamy
streets and the dark smell of tar. Calls up the good white dog, brings back the wild rose
streaming up the dogwood like ribbons and flowering in the air. And language like that,
advantage of what truth leaves behind. But it’s hard to put your finger

on it because the story changes all the time—the dream is light-fingered.
But the colors are true: the yellow light rising, not on the blue wind,but as if yellow could
what it takes to rise. As if yellow had dreams. And language like that, too, always taking
the borrowed shape of time, the coming and going, a cloudy promise crossing bright water;
        the leaves
on the other side shimmer in the wind. But the story changes like the wind and now a red
        bird rises                                                                                              
at the dreamer’s feet, a great heart, and beats the blue air: the heart dreams

of language flying, it batters the air like fingers drumming, one word leaving
off, the next swept up on the arc of an innocent wing. And, risen,
the heart takes direction and the dreamer is lost—yes, unimportant—deep in the language
        and dream.  


The Revisionist's Dream (III)


Not that he stole the fire, but that
the body of flame continued there.
And separate, continued—the flame

from the center of the flame,
what fire is. And the dream,
like that too, and the flickering

dance it does. No point: to argue
with the gods in their difficult
clothes, no hope in setting traps

for what we imagine fire to be.
We are all outside the center.
The only way in is to burn.      


                 -from The Revisionist's Dream

BIO: Renée Ashley is the author of four volumes of poetry (Salt -- Brittingham Prize in Poetry, Univ. of Wisconsin Press; The Various Reasons of Light; The Revisionist’s Dream; and Basic Heart -- X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press) as well as two chapbooks and a novel, Someplace Like This. She is a poetry editor of The Literary Review and on the faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s two low-residency graduate programs, the MFA Program in Creative Writing and the MA Program in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators. Her awards include a Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Kenyon Review Award for Literary Excellence, the Charles Angoff Award from The Literary Review, an American Literary Review Poetry Prize, the Chelsea Poetry Award, and the Robert H. Winner Award and the Ruth Lake Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Vermont Studio Center and has received an NEA fellowship in Poetry and fellowships in both poetry and prose from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.  A portion of her poem “First Book of the Moon” is etched in marble in Penn Station Terminal in Manhattan, part of a permanent installation by the artist Larry Kirkland.

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