Dream Work

Yes, I’m going to tell you my dream.
I’m walking around outside my mother’s
old house, the one I grew up in. Yes,
it’s that sort of dream and I’m going
to tell you. I’m standing in the front
yard and the trees and their azaleas
are not so desperate as I remember.
New soil from the nursery crowds
round their roots, and the leaves
are still damp from the hose—neatly
coiled now, the faucet tight, no drips.
I haven’t yet worked out that this
is a dream. For one thing, who has
been busy feeding the starving blooms?
My wife has not met me yet, though
I feel ready for that story to pick up.
And my mother: has she passed
like a stone through the postwar
plumbing? I know she’s nowhere
near the house, in the way we know
things in portentous dreams—the sort
you share with your wife in the morning,
or sit down before breakfast to catch
and fold and place gently in a box
that could better host a necklace,
or a ring. But the dream is still moving,
and out of the corner of my eye I recognize
my mother’s last cat, Byron for the poet,
headed in loping loafing style
for the backyard. I imagine now
(before breakfast) that he looked
back at me, inviting me to get the dream
over with, so that poetry could work
its yeasty magic. But I think this is
too much—I did follow, but Byron
was working his own seam. Just before
the back door, he paused to gather
significance, before heading for the bush.
I opened the door and stepped into
the kitchen—still the bruising yellow
I tried to paint in my first workshop poem,
years ago, and long-lost. But at last
I can say that there’s no more to say
about that kitchen. This dream
was up to something—well, not new exactly,
but gentler. I paused on that line for a long
while—gentle, kind, forgiving? Can we
take such words seriously, now? But my dream
isn’t interested in discerning the difference
between courage and limp sentiment. It warns
me—don’t tread on the question curled
just inside the door. And don’t flatten its
dark ears with discernment. You can’t
take in another, how will you find time
to name it? But you will. It’s that kind
of poem, and you’ve written it, and finished,
before breakfast.


James Miller is a native of Houston. He has published poetry in Boston AccentBurnt PineCold Mountain ReviewHouston Poetry Fest 2016, Lullwater ReviewThe Maine Review (forthcoming), PlainsongsRiversedgeSweet Tree Review, and The Tishman Review.

Miller Birds Thumb Photo.jpg