Dream: The Night of December 23rd 

for Jane 

                                                                         SIZE OF OSTRICHES,
                          they turned and walked away from us
                 and you were there Jane and you were twenty-two
                        but this was the nineteen-forties,
                   in Wichita, near the edge of town, in a field
                  surrounded by a copse of cottonwoods. It was
                    getting dark and the trees around the bridge
                       almost glowed like a scene by Palmer.
           The two Giant Birds—Aepyorni—from Madagascar,
               extincted A.D. one thousand, turned and walked
           from us across the bridge. Even in the semi-darkness
                   the softness of their brown feathers made
                 curls pliant as a young mother’s hair. There
         was a sweet submission in the power of their enormous
                  legs (giant drumsticks). Their tiny heads
                  (in proportion to their bodies) were bent
          utterly submerged in their business and sweeping
         side to side as a salmon does—or as a wolf does—
             but with a Pleistocene, self-involved gentleness
                beyond our ken. My heart rose in my chest
                    (as the metaphysical poets say “with
                   purple wings of joy.”) to see them back
              in life again. We both looked, holding hands,
                     and I felt your wide-eyed drinking-in
of things.
                Then I turned and viewed across the darkening
             field and there was a huge flightless hunting fowl
                  (the kind that ate mammals in the Pliocene).
          He stood on one leg in the setting sun by the sparkling
               stream that cut across the meadow to the bridge.
            He had a hammer head and curled beak, and after my
                 initial surge of fear to see the field was dotted,
            populated, by his brethren, each standing in the setting
                        sun, I saw their stately nobility
                                                                              and again
the self-involvement.
                                   We followed the Aepyorni
                      across the old wooden bridge made of huge
                timbers. The bridge was dark from the shadows
                     of the poplars and the evergreens there.
               The stream was dimpled with flashing moonlight
                        —and I think it had a little song.
              I found that on the bridge we were among
              a herd of black Wildebeests—Black Gnus.
           One was two feet away—turned toward me—
                looking me eye-into-eye. There was primal
                    wildness in the upstanding coarse (not
                        sleek as it really is in Africa) fur on
                the knobby, powerful-like-buffalo shoulders.
                 (Remember this is a dream.) I passed by him
           both afraid and unafraid of wildness as I had passed
     through the herd of zebras at the top of Ngorongoro Crater
        in front of the lodge, where from the cliff we could see
            a herd of elephants like ants, and the soda lake
                    looked pink because of flamingos there.
                        There is an essence in fear overcome
                and I overcame fright in passing those zebras
                     and this black Wildebeest.
                                                            Then we passed
                  over the heavy bridge and down a little trail
                  on the far side of the meadow, walking back
                  in the direction we had been.
                                                                   Soon we came
                       to a cottage of white clapboards
          behind a big white clapboard house and knocked
             on the door; it was answered by a young man
  with long hair who was from the Incredible String Band.
          He took us inside and he played an instrument
              like a guitar and he danced as he played it.
          The lyre-guitar was covered with square plastic
                buttons in rows of given sizes and shapes.
              The instrument would make any sound, play
                 any blues, make any creature sound, play
                             any melody…I wanted it
                     badly—it was a joy. My chest rose.
               I figured I’d have to, and would be glad to,
                  give twenty or thirty thousand for it…
                              Then the dream broke
              and I was standing somewhere with Joanna
                to the side of a crowd of people by a wall
                of masonry and I reached into my mouth
                  and took from my jaw (all the other
        persons vanished and I was the center of everything)
                        a piece which was eight teeth
                      fused together. I stared at them
               wondering how they could all be one piece.
                They were white…It was some new fossil.
        Down on the bone there were indentations like rivulets
                    like the flowing patterns of little rivers.

Michael McClure, "Dream: The Night of December 23rd" from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
Source: Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems (University of California Press, 2011)
More Poems by Michael McClure