This month’s “A Favorite Poem” issue features a work from Jenny Johnson, an American poet known for her writings that deal with issues such as queerness, feminism, and the body. Her work, “In the Dream,” which I’m sharing with you, evokes these sort of themes:
In the Dream (by Jenny Johnson)
I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before
or maybe it was in a way all our dives
merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,
one glitter-spritzed black hole,
one cue stick burnished down to a soft blue nub.
Picture an open cluster of stars
managing to forever stabilize in space
without a landlord scheming to shut the place down.
Anyways, I was searching for someone there
whom we hadn’t seen in years—in what
could have been Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,
the Palms, or the E Room? but the room
had no end and no ceiling.
Though I could see all of our friends or exes
with elbows up or fingers interlocked
on table tops zinging with boomerangs.
Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.
But just as a trap that trips before
hammering a mouse is not humane
the dream changed—or the alarm
that I carry in my breast pocket in my waking life
was sounding. Because in the dream,
three people on bar stools, who were straight
or closeted? but more importantly angry
turned and the room dwindled
like a sweater full of moths eating holes
through wool. Or they were humans, sure,
but not here to love
with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts
that might stick or knick or flutter past
as erratically as they were fired.
You could say their hostility was a swirl
nebulous as gas and dust,
diffuse as the stress
a body meticulously stores.
Like how when I was shoved in grade school
on the blacktop in my boy jeans
the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry
because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening
like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is
peeled back clean with a knife.
I was in the dream as open to the elements,
yet I fired back. And I didn’t care who eyed me
like warped metal to be pounded square.
I said: Do you realize where you are?
And with one finger I called our family forth
and out of the strobe lights, they came.
What especially struck me about this poem was the immediacy of the narrative– even though it’s in past tense, “In the Dream” warps the concept of time through its dream-like sequence. Plus, the vivid images of the universe in the lines “one glitter-spritzed black hole,/…Picture an open cluster of stars/managing to forever stabilize in space” are too pretty not to acknowledge.
I admit, it wasn’t surprising for Johnson to juxtapose themes of LGBTQ+ and the universe together, since the latter represents a kind of non-normative which LGBTQ+ issues embody, especially in today’s age of heteronormative, cis-gender talk. Although things are getting better in bringing the subject of LGBTQ+ to light, it’ll take a long time for it to become fully normalized in society, if ever at all.
This poem especially stuck with me for a few reasons: 1) the narrative, which had that stream-of-consciousness style that worked appropriately with the dream motif throughout, 2) the subject matter, e.g. LGBTQ+, with which I strongly identify and enjoy learning more about in literature such as poetry, and 3) the depth in which the poem warps with time, discussing both the past in terms of recently-closed lesbian bars (referenced in the lines, “Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,/the Palms, or the E Room”) and the present/future with the speaker’s thoughts on the matter.
Really, there’s so much to pick out from this poem that it would take a novel to do so– that said, I just wanted to express a few of my thoughts on it, all the while leaving the rest of it up to your interpretation!
Enjoy the poem, and have a great day!
— The Finicky Cynic
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