Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dream of the Dancing Doll

This post is something of a departure for me. It's the longest poem I've ever written, for one thing, which is why I'm not posting it for a prompt--it's a lot to ask for someone making the rounds of many sites to read a poem of this length. Unlike most of my posted poems, I haven't added much punctuation or  the other neatening I usually do; it's here just as it came out of my head, for the most part. 
It's also taken almost word for word from the transcription of a dream I had at the beginning of the month that covered pages of textual notes--I have cut all I felt I could, and still end up with a freight train of verses. I've worked on it as much as I think will be productive, so it's going up and out of the way. Many many thanks to Fireblossom for her help with analysis and for her encouragement. And to anyone with the patience to read, my thanks in advance.

Dream of the Dancing Doll


Sent to save the
dancing doll
wrapped in red and
shut in a box

in the crowded house
of uncaring party where
the blademen run wild
slashing and laughing

I ran with her
but you stopped me in the plaza,
at the booths of despair and dream,
where the noise was a storm of  money.

You stood in your blue frown
and said I’d failed the trust; perhaps,
but what about her was wrong? Your silent eyes 
were hooded  in the running lights.

Inside the box her wrist
still dripped
cut because they took her
from the dance

I saw her at the party
the dancing doll dressed in red
pale hair and curved mouth
she danced and so she smiled

We heard the music wild
where others heard the chatter
spooned it in  bottomless cups of ears
til nothing else could be.


the black men cooking eggs
help stop the blood
but can’t leave the kitchen
they saw her make the cut

they wrapped it tight
wrapped all of her
in bands of red satin
to hide the dark flower

with the sleeve they tore from
her red satin dress, tore across again
the cocoon strips to make her
a mummy  in her matchbox

The men in liver dinner jackets
shrank her to a twist of
finger, boiled her tongue till
she could no longer speak, but her eyes

her eyes found mine
just before they bound them
her head tossing
in the red satin mask

I  heard her glance
shattering  me and stole the box.
We ran in the dying minute for the place
where only the dance matters

not the promise
not the conditions, not the control.
From the quicksand trap I ran with her
to where all bleeding stops.


It was hard to run
in the long skirt
I wore to the party at
the house of gold

petal flare of denim blue
a soft clamor, the red apple that
parts the green leaves of heart
shroud covered. Running through,

I watched the others play,
with dice, with men
with ivory cards, bags of storebought
monkeys, bored laughing eyes of stone

no one noticed she was gone,
the vacant air where she once danced
her head tipped back to the ride
the doors of her eyes closed and bolted.

I liked the tall man
who stood in giant pants his belt
above my head but his ogrish hands
could only break a doll

There was only me to
save her so I did.
she was small and perfect
in her box, tossing, tossing

her tiny head, bleeding,
wrapped too tight
her fine eyes covered
with a red death mask

but I knew if I found the place
where the wild music played
she would dance again.
So we ran, picked up our skirts

and ran to where I set her down
and left her dancing,
in her  red dress with the
missing sleeve.

behind us oblivious mirrors,
the  empty crowd  with
eyes of gold, tongues of
dollars chattered on.

June 2011


  1. holy crap...what did you eat before bed...the crowd at the end is certainly is the ogre that you like in big pants, a realise as far as dream interpretation goes this could be a field day...smiles. i am glad she danced once more...

  2. Thanks for trawling your way through, brian--I have absolutely no idea what any of this means, except I'm probably just as crazy as I think I am. ;-)

  3. The men in liver dinner jackets is an amazing image. I like the black men cooking eggs, too. The storebought monkeys with "bored laughing eyes of stone" is perfect, I really like that. The picking up of the skirts is a nice visual for both the fairy story-ness of the piece, and also the sense of two girls in a hurry. But my favorite lines are still the simple "There was only me to/ save her so I did."

  4. @FB Couldn't have done it without you, my friend. I was totally out to sea. Thanks for all the help, and for reading it yet again. ;-)

  5. No apologies needed for this amazing poem. I think that the second stanza is the heart of the poem and could easily stand on its own; I've been hearing from one of the poets weighing in on my work that leaving things a bit ambiguous/surreal in many instances is more ideal than trying to make everything clear. The dream-state, post dream-state or muse attack, whatever you call it is beautifully chaotic, inchoate and sometimes it feels to me best to leave it that way to let meaning emerge from it however it can or will. xxxxj

  6. Thanks for reading, Jenne, and I appreciate the insight. I did think of making it two separate poems, but couldn't quite get the hang of it.

  7. Sorry for commenting late, didn't realize this was up til late yesterday ... But I'm glad I waited to read and respond here at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m., windows open to summer's humid night, the dark much closer to the dream of this poem ... Your previous poem is a good proscenium for this one, sequentially or not, especially if it can be argued that the Demon of your epistemology has a split self (don't we all), half-genius, half-silo of shadow wrongs. The red doll has that obvious connotation to me, personal, the half worth saving in a world tunelessly riven to the motions of the latter, like Dante's damned. The dancing doll took the worlds wrongs and woundings (caused by mostly dark -- not black--- men's blades) and cut herself, as if on cue, damning herself in accordance with Their crossed purposes. I loved the dreamscape of ghastly promenade, the mission to save the red doll from its hell, Orphically leading this bride of soul out of the Tartarus of lockstep two-steps (damage, damage more) to salvation, the dance most of all. How totemic the doll, a female homunculus, just a child, the child inside the woman so damaged by the demon dance, wings clipped, spiraling out and down into the mad material patriarchal, where angels only have one use. (Prone and boned.) The dreamer/speaker knows one cannot fly out of this place -- that would be to spiritualize the mess, and transcendence is not the point -- but to dance, which is to go down into the essence of the red doll's genius and help turn winding-sheet back into shimmying fabric, devil's dam with a red dress on, Their cold gold laughter become walls of a necropolis left behind for the wilderness the poem seeks "where the wild music played" and the doll could be restored to her happy purpose, the metronome inside every poem. And yes, there is no need to own this doll -- that's for children -- it is enough that she dances again. Sorry for this club-footed attempt to dance along with the meters of this dream, and dreams are like Delphic oracles -- purposely strange and perhaps ultimately unknowable -- but they do afford the pleasure of an audience with the gods. At least, with their ever-dancin', wonder-whirlin' Poet who understands that sometimes the Voice comes through loud and clear and pure, requiring no artifice or basting. Just dance, dammit. Amen and again ... Brendan

  8. The poem, and Brendan's exegesis, are remarkable testament to what is possible when poets pay attention to inner landscapes. The final "tongues of / dollars chattered on" is one of many sounds/images that make this a vivid telling.

  9. @Ruth: Thanks so much for reading this very long piece. The inner landscape is like a perpetual 15th century, I think, and we send our explorers out in their small brave boats hoping they can reveal where the treasures lie, but also just for the sheer human joy of traversing the unknown, of being the first footstep. Or so I often feel when reading the work of poets such as yourself, who ply its waves so happily.

    @Brendan: No apology ever necessary for such an insightful comment(or any comment)--almost as long as the poem.;-) I appreciate every word, and I think you've hit exactly on the core of the dream/poem. The search for what's salvageable, for meaning, for escape from damage and false control, proactive, full of its own pain but persevering is indeed the story of our ongoing struggle with our inner demons, that dark side of ourselves and of the larger whole which is the societal construct around us that reinforces them. Thanks much for reading, and for your perspective on it all.

  10. Amazing. Only word that came up!

  11. What Brendan said. No, really, that's an excellent Jungian analysis of the dream / poem. For you, only Jung would do. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.

  12. @MZ Don't worry, I need all the Jung I can get. I sleep with a copy of Man and His Symbols on my nightstand. ;-) Thanks for reading.

  13. Just don't try to sleep on the Red Book. You'll wake up with a sore shadow! (PS, I wasn't trying to offer a Jungian interp of the dream. Just dancing along, with all of the usual daimones in tow ... Jung was merely their sibyl, their Delphian homegirl ... Brendan

  14. i don't have the first notion what y'all are talkin about!

  15. @Coal: Could that be because you dropped out of the fifth grade and ran off with the gypsies?

    @Brendan: Maybe my hellsnake could fight it out with Carl's big black snake, and they could both tell Freud where to put his cigar.

  16. Like a really good movie, it doesn't seem long. It all passed so fast, it has the dream quality, and an interesting write. So many things to like! The red satin best of all, like the red shoes symbol for creativity, and little woman, or soul. Love it.

  17. Thanks for reading, annell--yes I thought of the red shoes while I was writing this--in my dream the color red was very insistent. I don't doubt it did tie in with both creativity, and identity.

  18. O I loved this nightmare! Creepy fascinating! Suddenly I found myself bringing in movie memories of "Blade Runner" mixed with slivers of Phillip K Dick's works band "The Omen"! Brilliant!

  19. this feels like an animation by neil gaiman and dave mckean, or jan svankmajer's alice.
    something surreal with momentum =)


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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