Invisible Dreams

By Toi Derricotte b. 1941 Toi Derricotte

La poesie vit d’insomnie perpetuelle
—René Char

There’s a sickness in me. During   
the night I wake up & it’s brought

a stain into my mouth, as if
an ocean has risen & left back

a stink on the rocks of my teeth.   
I stink. My mouth is ugly, human

stink. A color like rust
is in me. I can’t get rid of it.

It rises after I
brush my teeth, a taste

like iron. In the
night, left like a dream,

a caustic light
washing over the insides of me.


What to do with my arms? They   
coil out of my body

like snakes.
They branch & spit.

I want to shake myself   
until they fall like withered

roots; until
they bend the right way—

until I fit in them,   
or they in me.

I have to lay them down as   
carefully as an old wedding dress,

I have to fold them
like the arms of someone dead.

The house is quiet; all   
night I struggle. All

because of my arms,   
which have no peace!


I’m a martyr, a girl who’s been dead   
two thousand years. I turn

on my left side, like one comfortable   
after a long, hard death.

The angels look down
tenderly. “She’s sleeping,” they say

& pass me by. But
all night, I am passing

in & out of my body   
on my naked feet.


I’m awake when I’m sleeping & I’m   
sleeping when I’m awake, & no one

knows, not even me, for my eyes   
are closed to myself.

I think I am thinking I see
a man beside me, & he thinks

in his sleep that I’m awake   
writing. I hear a pen scratch

a paper. There is some idea   
I think is clever: I want to

capture myself in a book.


I have to make a   
place for my body in

my body. I’m like a   
dog pawing a blanket

on the floor. I have to   
turn & twist myself

like a rag until I
can smell myself in myself.

I’m sweating; the water is   
pouring out of me

like silver. I put my head   
in the crook of my arm

like a brilliant moon.


The bones of my left foot   
are too heavy on the bones

of my right. They
lie still for a little while,

sleeping, but soon they   
bruise each other like

angry twins. Then
the bones of my right foot

command the bones of my left   
to climb down.

Toi Derricotte, “Invisible Dreams” from Tender. Copyright © 1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press,

Source: Tender (1997)

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Poet Toi Derricotte b. 1941

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Nature, The Body, Social Commentaries

 Toi  Derricotte


Toi Derricotte is an award-winning poet whose writings, though frequently autobiographical, treat universal subjects such as racism and identity in ways that are moving, painful, and illuminating. Her style is credited with an evocative simplicity reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, though it also contains the kind of expansive colloquial expression attributed to Walt Whitman. Derricotte is also known for treating sexual topics with . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Nature, The Body, Social Commentaries

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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