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Zoë Brigley poem in Southword Journal

Zoë Brigley, originally from Wales, lives in Pennsylvania, USA. Her first collection The Secret (Bloodaxe, 2007) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for international writers under 30. Most recently, she was shortlisted for this year's Arvon International Poetry Prize. She writes a blog, The Midnight Heart.








The Guide







All of which are American Dreams



American dreams are ill-fitting shoes that fatten

your heel to a blister. They appear like the figure

you try to greet from a long way off; to your call,

lost in the din of the city, he never answers anything.

There are long cherished dreams that we colonize:

dreams like feathery seed pods that are borne

on the wind to catch on our sleeves, in sterile hair;

dreams like hands inked by grimy photographs

or newsprint; dreams blazing like the land-burning

of forest fires that blacken burnished harvest plots;

dreams like flies that buzz and glint their wings gold;

like dull vibrations that enter your body through earth,

or like a tinny song, the mumblings of a radio script

heard underwater, or from the breeze on a distant shore.


American dreams are whirring at night to shore us up

against doubt: the fears that are always fattening.

Like Fay Wray who screamed her way out of the script

of King Kong, dreams are shrieking: a mother bereft.

Or they silently worm their way in the tunnelled earth,

wheedling openings from the bars of every prison cell.

Their dreams infect you like the fever for gold,

though you know they’ll never amount to anything.

But above all these dreams cultivate love, their plots

small among the multitude longings of the colony,

where we yearn for men or women of our dreamlands:

the passages and shafts of sleep where desire is born.

And all the lovers burning in the New World geography

dream, like you and me, of one slow, inevitable touch.







The Guide



On Wednesday, I caught a bus to the Sierra Norte. You need a guide up there, because the forests are fierce and you can easily lose your way. The locals rent out cabins and offer their services as guides. My guide, Eustorgio, was a cheerful man, and extremely patient. He showed me the flowers and plants of the mountains: Rosa de la Montañathe red thistle, mushrooms good to eat, and leaves that curbed toothaches.


When we reached a crossroads between the hard and easy routes, Eustorgio advised me to take the easy route. Of course I chose the difficult way, and Eustorgio led me upwards. I took off my glove and took his hand in places where we needed to climb. It was the season when no wind blows through the cloud-forests. The path climbed steadily along the Devil’s Backbone. Eustorgio told me: “Look aheadnot sideways, not behind”. Every so often, a cloud passed over and plunged us into mist.


Late in the afternoon, we came to a cabin. Eustorgio told me it belonged to his uncle. He was scattering food on the waters of the fishponds.


—“It’s pretty,” I said.

“My uncle built it for his wife,” he explained, “but she could not live with him. That’s how it is with you isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.


Back in town, I ate chicken stew at the comedor. Later, Eustorgio led me back to the hostel and built a fire. He painfully copied my e-mail address in a small diary. He said he wouldn’t be there in the morning, because he was driving to the city. I sat by the fire and waited. We sat in silence for a while and, at last, he left.



©2010 Zoe Brigley




Author Links


Zoë Brigley homepage

Bloodaxe Books' Brigley page

Four poems by Brigley in Salt's Horizon








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