Weekly Poem: ‘If a Person Visits Someone in a Dream, in Some Cultures the Dreamer Thanks Them’


By Jean Valentine

In memory of Reginald Shepherd

Dear Reginald,
It is morning.
I sit at a table
writing a letter
with a needle and thread.


I pricked my finger        A pelican
out of her migratory path,
even her language family—
whose child is gone
yet she absently pecks at her breast.


I write on the bedspread
I am making for you there
May you breathe deeply and easily.
If a person visits someone in a dream,
in some cultures the dreamer thanks them in the morning
for visiting their dream.


I call it dream
not that I am drawn to that which withdraws
but to him pearled, asleep, who never withdraws.


At a hotel in another star. The rooms were cold and
damp, we were both at the desk at midnight asking if
they had any heaters. They had one heater. You are
ill, please you take it. Thank you for visiting my dream.


Can you breathe all right?
Break the glass        shout
break the glass        force the room
break the thread        Open
the music behind the glass.


Jean Valentine; Photo by Max GreenstreetJean Valentine has published 11 books of poetry and is also the editor of “The Lighthouse Keeper: Essays on the Poetry of Eleanor Ross Taylor.” Last month, she won the 2009 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a $100,000 prize which recognizes outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.

Her first book, “Dream Barker,” was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1965, and her recent collection, “Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems,” won the 2004 National Book Award.

About her writing Valentine says: “I’m always trying to hear the sound of the words, and trying to take out everything that doesn’t feel alive. That’s my goal: to take out everything that doesn’t feel alive. And also to get to a place that has some depth to it. Certainly I’m always working with things that I don’t understand—with the unconscious, the invisible. And trying to find a way to translate it.”

Valentine taught at New York University until 2004, and in recent years has also taught workshops and seminars at the 92nd St. Y, the University of Pittsburgh, Sarah Lawrence College, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and Columbia University. She lives in New York City.