In this remarkable and unique work, award-winning poet Sarah Arvio gives us a memoir about coming to terms with a life in crisis through the study of dreams.
As a young woman, threatened by disturbing visions, Arvio went into psychoanalysis to save herself. The result is a riveting sequence of dream poems, followed by “Notes.” The poems, in the form of irregular sonnets, describe her dreamworld: a realm of beauty and terror emblazoned with recurring colors and images—gold, blood red, robin’s-egg blue, snakes, swarms of razors, suitcases, playing cards, a catwalk. The Notes, also exquisitely readable, unfold the meaning of the dreams—as told to her analyst—and recount the enlightening and sometimes harrowing process of unlocking memories, starting with the diaries she burned to make herself forget. Arvio’s explorations lead her back to her younger self—and to a life-changing understanding that will fascinate readers.
An utterly original work of art and a groundbreaking portrayal of the power of dream interpretation to resolve psychic distress, this stunning book illumines the poetic logic of the dreaming mind; it also shows us, with surpassing poignancy, how tender and fragile is the mind of an adolescent girl.
& now an airplane lands in the field
& incinerates I use this strange word
when I tell the dream not flames or burns
there was a rusty barrel out in back
we called the incinerator strange word
for an old barrel where we burned the trash
I took my diaries out there in back
in the brightdamp where a spatter of rain
fell in the ashes & striking matches
lit the edges & watched as the pages
curled charred & would not burn I said my life
burn up my life & for one lifetime
I thought I can stop now & take them back
but no they were burning so I let them burn
From the author's notes:
My first real breakthrough was the dream called “airplane.” Describing the explosion of the plane, I used the word incinerate. And then I remembered burning the diaries. When I say ‘remembered,’ I don’t mean I recalled something I had thought of now and then over the years. I mean that the memory broke open, shocking me, and I saw that -it—-the -event—-had happened, that I had known of it long before, and then forgotten.
The sudden viewing of a lost traumatic memory happened only a few times during the analysis. ‘Sudden’ means -shocking—-the return of a powerful memory. Other memories came more slowly. I understood later that a traumatic memory lost and then found releases other memories. By ‘breakthrough,’ I mean this was the first time I had the sense that there was more to know about my suffering and that I might be able to find it.
I borrow a slip from another girl
a black slip with a lace décolletage
& she accuses me of stealing it
no I say I didn't steal the slip I
borrowed it but no one believes me here
the magistrates are standing near the wall
& they sentence me to a razor death
my executioner has jetblack hair
long & skanky & it swings as he steps
toward me with the razor in his teeth
I'm sporting the black slip in which I'll die
the black slip with the lace décolletage
but then I seize the shining instrument
& zig it through the air & slash his eye
From the author's notes:
"black slip"= black lace slip. The word décolletage, a low-cut neckline, comes from the French décolleter, which means cut out the neck of, as for a dress, and also cut someone's neck. Here, I'm the wrongdoer, having stolen the slip, and I'm sentenced to a razor death....
The razors were anguishing, senseless. How could god, the gods, creators of life and dreams, inflict them on me in my sleep? In "shiny foil," my molester--as I call him in the dream--is sentenced to be executed with a razor, but by the time I understand that his molesting is a form of love, it is too late to save him.
Just now, as I write, it occurs to me that foil also has another meaning, a literary one: isn't the molester a foil for my own spurning of love and longing for love? A thing that contrasts with and enhances the qualities of the other. Here again, foil: they were foils for each other, the two brothers. I mingled them together, remembering. They harmed me; they hurt my life; they did me irreparable harm. And yet, there was something shiny about me and the one I called the cat, as he bent his head and looked in my eyes--out there on the driveway.
Excerpted from night thoughts by Sarah Arvio. Copyright © 2013 by Sarah Arvio. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
SARAH ARVIO is the author of two previous books of poetry, Visits from the Seventh and Sono. She has won a number of awards and honors, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Guggenheim and Bogliasco Fellowships. For many years a translator for the United Nations in New York and Switzerland, she has also taught poetry at Princeton.