Jerome Rothenberg: “A Book of Dreams,” a pastiche for Robert Kelly’s 82nd birthday


The way her knee swells

& she feels it

swelling & it turns into

a babe’s head.

No one has a countenance

more rich

& no one has a mouth

that opens wider,

lets a sound like

dreaming come into

the room in which

they wait.



In the night

men go fishing for stars,

not a god but a babe

wields the trident.

Cables lie covered with

smut.  Light erupts

on a screen.  What you see

is your face    & the face

that you see, old

& blind,

is a face from

your dreams.



Better for the mind

to empty out

in dreams,

the way a body

falls, thrown

from a passing train,


They hold a plate

between them, on its rim

a graven message:

God Is Pain.



The air has grown destructive,

finds a way

to bind you,

dark & swollen,

an old angel with

flayed wings

The searchers in the night

drift past you.

You will walk among them,

will give them solace,

only in your dreams.



The room in which the man

is sleeping

splinters     halfway

through his dream

he feels a flow

of images escaping

from his eyes

imploding coating

bed & floor

with colors like a show

of lights

in space, a spectrum

half unseen,




Gardens blossom where a hand

digs deep     the rows

of laborers,

small men forgotten

like the names of towns,

bend with the wind.

Bright words like bella

grace their dreams,

their days degraded by

inane lavoro.

Theirs are forbidden thoughts.



Hand in hand

the dead walk in a line,

hoping against hope,

like children.

It is enough.  It

is enough.

It doesn’t last.

The false commanders

lead the charge.

The story, started

in a dream,

is winding down.



French dolls like ghosts

step forth at midday.

Everyone is sportif

geared for speed

never to turn a shoulder,

to name a game for love.

Their aim is circular,

it follows where you lead them,

down a secret path,

into a basement

shadowed by

your childhood dream,

a lurking hole,

then up the backstairs

lost to sleep.



In the dark dance,


they are tearing at a bone,

their jaws like bears’

jaws     cavernous

their fingers dripping

porridge, clawing

at each other’s nipples,

keepers of a dream.

The blind man sees

no flame or smoke

but knows it all

by tasting.



The cavern of the universe

widens each morning.

My head fills up with dew,

the father writes,

having no home but where

his shadow leads him.

In greasy shirtsleeves, heavy

lids, blotched faces,

the men pursue

a trail of tears,

unbuttoned    captive

to a dream,

a starless galaxy,

the deeper sky

a field of images

measureless & mindless,

absent their god.



The man with a hole

in his eye

sees anew.  A sphinx

fingers a sphincter,

she extrudes

false colors.  The night

once was pink,          

it is now

black & white.

Nerval in a corner

spitting his death out,

a substance

first dreamed,

then stuck under

his tongue.

The war goes on forever.



“Release me.”

“Feed me.”

Whose design this is

they do not know,

but cling to cyberspace

as if it held

a clue    the outline

of a village

filled with snow

or circumstance.

The wise man runs from it,

like poetry

or dreams.



Love, like intelligence,

opens a door,

to let us in

still blind

& searching,

taking as a sign

the names of God

engraved in

amethyst    a counterfeit


not letting time

pretend to halt

the darker flux,

impediment to where

we set our sights.

Here is a place to hang

a flag, and there a hat

to pull a flag from.

All your little men

are watching,

waking from a dream.

There is no predicting


but it always comes.



Those who are masters

needn’t talk,

but signal with a secret

nod or wink,

concealed assassins

brought into the mix.

Involuntary tears,

a dream of executions,                      (C. Baudelaire)


rises between our teeth.

The ones who loved us

die     not one by one

but now en masse,

the presence of the dead

in every corner.



Inside the house,

its walls down,

ground into a dust

that only the dream

sustains, those

who were once alive

do not arise,

but one by one

by snakes                                           (T.L. Beddoes)

their limbs are swallowed.

Almost enough

to make you

suffocate, to lodge

like mercury

under your tongue.



Our dreams were of suns,

of vermilion dragons

spangled with gold

from Sumeria,

pronouncements & omens

concealed, to take death

as a tribute,

a slave plunged

in water

& drowning,

becoming a wife

to their god,

a scorpion,

then a chimera.



 O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.


No world more clear

than what we see

in dreams

nor more amazing,

numbers bursting into

stars    & stars

enriching what we learn

when dreaming.


It is no more than this,

to sleep & be

the master of the universe,

not to be bound to earth

but gathering a trillion

other worlds,

to count myself

a little king

stepping aside for time.


Nothing is measured

that the mind can fathom

waking.  In the way

her body beckons

when you turn to touch her

coming from a black hole

deep in space

& time.  We learn to count

the deeper images

& those still deeper,

gods & angels

dancing on a pin. *                * a chip


Before the dream

turns bad

in which a pin* holds             * a chip

all we know

& all we fear

I stretch out flat

to the Horizon.

I arch above you

like a lid.

I vanish & return.

My name is Death.


The word extermination

resonates    nothing

escapes.  The world

itself ends in a time

beyond all time

where time ends

leaving a residue behind

of mindless space

& still more mindless

images    the nightmares

that the mind conceals. *           * reveals


To run from time

isn’t a choice,

the stars we see

are overwhelming

& block the view

or bring up images

of light & dark,

a flickering

across the map

of time,

the flow of sand

in dreams.





[16 excerpts from A Book of Concealments plus a coda newly written]