Night of the lagoon

The following might be a poem, or a story, I’m not sure which. I wrote the piece first in Spanish, and then translated it into English. Something about the narrative reminded me of one of my favorite South American authors, Horacio Quiroga, so I wrote it first in Spanish.

Please listen, if you have time. It took me almost an hour to figure out how to upload the darn file! But now I know how. That’s how it is when we have to teach ourselves, a lot of trial and error.

A poetry workshop leader said recently that she didn’t think it was fair to use symbols from dreams in poems. The symbolism is too personal, too obscure to be understood. But to me, the image of the water seemed universal. Who hasn’t dreamed of dark water, or being swept up by giant waves? And the neighbor is more than likely myself, seen as the other.

Tell me what you think. Is it fair to use dream imagery in poems?

noche de la laguna/night of the lagoon (audio)

Noche de la laguna

Anoche soñé que una inundación
subió hasta el segundo piso de mi casa.
Todos salimos a las terrazas
para averiguar por qué el aire sabía a ranas.

Era de noche, y la luna se reflejaba
en un espejo oscuro de agua.
Me inliné sobre el balcón, pensando
¿cómo voy a escaparme?

En los jardines las coronas de los árboles
se asomaban de la laguna como enormes
caras de hombres frondosos. Desde su terraza
mi vecina de al lado se clavó los ojos

en los míos y me dijo, sin sonido,
como sólo ocurre en los sueños,
– No fui yo. No me eches la culpa.
Tenía razón, la pobre. Siempre le culpaba

por todo. Volteé la cabeza, fastidiada.
Esta vez me empeñé en no bañarme.
Me acordé de las otras veces cuando sí
nadé en los ríos sombríos, atiborrados

de cocodrilos de color azabache,
o cuando me encaré con un muro
de olas que me tragó y me tiró
hasta las profundidades.

Volví al interior de la casa, y cerré la puerta –
por esta vez una solución sencilla se me ocurrió
antes de despertarme.


Night of the lagoon

Last night I dreamed that a flood
rose to the second floor of my house.
We all went out to our back porches
to find out why the air smelled like frogs.

It was nighttime, and the moon was reflected
in a dark mirror of water.
I leaned over the balcony, thinking
how am I going to escape?

In backyards crowns of trees
rose from the lagoon like giant
faces of leafy men. From her porch
my next door neighbor fixed her eyes

on mine and told me, without sound,
as it happens only in dreams,
“It wasn’t me. Don’t blame me.”
She was right, poor thing, I always blamed

her for everything. I turned away, annoyed.
This time I was determined not to bathe.
I remembered the other times when
I did swim in dark rivers teeming

with jet-colored crocodiles,
or when I faced a wall of waves
that swallowed me and threw me
to the depths.

I went back inside and closed the door –
for once a simple solution occurred to me
before I woke up.

27 thoughts on “Night of the lagoon

  1. suburbanlife says:

    “The air smelled like frogs”… wow, i have smelled air like that, air full of wet, slithering things, amphibians – i like that you summoned a strong inundated sense of smell with this.
    “This time I was determined not to bathe.” this is a good turn in the poem, shocks actually, as if one would bathe with a criticized neighbour and others nearby, or in froggy waters.
    Absolutely, wht not use dream imagery? It is an honest acquisition of metaphors. Who knows just how much of a poet’s imagery comes through realizations made possible by dreams.
    Watch out for the rule-makers! They erect fences that must be climbed over. G


  2. Jo says:

    I’ve read many a strong poem, including this, which uses dream imagery. Go for it, I say. I wish I had more than ten words of Spanish…..I’m going to listen now.


  3. Jo says:

    Oh, how freaky, I wouldn’t have recognised you at all…… sound like a different person. You have a fantastic spanish accent but you don’t sound like the chilled Christine I know and love, you sound very latin and manic. Ha! What an interesting experiment to listen to it in two languages. I’m laughing at G bashing the rule makers. I agree. Do what you like, you do it so well.


  4. dale says:

    I loved hearing you in the two tongues, two, and noted the difference — though I would have called your Spanish voice passionate, not manic. (Please stick to English when you meet me in person; I’m not sure I could handle the roll of those double ‘r’s in person :->) Most of us have different personalities in different languages, I think.

    Anyway, I don’t think dream images need be any more cryptic or inaccessible than any others — they all come from the same place. I loved this, especially the ending.


  5. paisley says:

    oh christine,,, as always i am mesmerized by your speaking voice.. this was absolute perfection,, and i think whoever told you that,, just hasn’t the talent you do to make a dream come alive and become ours….

    there are a great many who call themselves poets that feel that they have ‘a corner on the market’,,, but more often than not,, it is they that have no recollection of where the market is being held…..

    this was a treasure…..


  6. Julie says:

    Of course, it’s fair! Dream poems are awesome, and this one is no exception. You’re right about the universal themes. Great images and I love the ending…the solution. I also LOVED listening to it in Spanish.


  7. christine says:

    G, your true artist colors are showing. I remember when I wrote about a drawing I made, in which the teacher made us adhere to certain principals, and you balked at the idea! I think you and I would get along very well in real life!

    Jo, I might have been trying too hard when I read the Spanish. I haven’t been speaking much Spanish since I quit my teaching job. I’m need to get back out there and mingle.

    Dale, yes, passion for Spanish is definitely there.

    Paisley, I love that I made this dream become yours. That makes my day.

    Julie, I do love dream poems too. If I let on how much I’m in love with dreams and human consciousness I’d probably bore you all to tears.


  8. Dick says:

    If all poetry is a process of investigation – a means whereby we focus on the subtext of experience, or the inscape/instress, as Gerard Manley Hopkins characterised it – then dreams are fair game. And if, as Leroi Jones had it, it’s the sound that matters, then your reading compounds the powerful atmospheric effect of the poem in its two incarnations here. Good stuff, I reckon!


  9. Michelle says:

    Christine, I think it’s fair to use dream imagery in poems. You write what you like. I love these steamy, tropical images.

    “Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”
    – Anais Nin

    “A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.”
    – Gaston Bachelard


  10. deb says:

    Oh, it’s gorgeous and rich. Nice – incredible to have both versions ; quadruples my poetic experience – on the recording (I need to talk to you about how it’s done for WP). And completely fair to use anything and everything for poetry. (You got me at smell of frogs.) It did sound more like a story that a poem, to my ear, when I heard you speak it. And felt like poetry on the blog page. Curious. Beautiful.

    Oooh. Michelle, we need these poetry quotes on RWP!


  11. Michelle Johnson says:

    Another excellent poem, Christine. I think writing what you know- dream or otherwise- is a very good way to write. I think you bring a dream alive like no other. Keep up the good work. Have a nice day.

    Oh, and I loved your reading voice.


  12. Rethabile says:

    I’ll be back to read the poem itself. I wanted to say, before signing off, that dream imagery is some of the most powerful I know. I sleep with pen and paper within reach. If you don’t jot it down immediately, you lose most of its verve.


  13. Holly D says:

    Hi! I’ll tell you what. As much as I think workshop is important, comments like that make me say “BAH!” Who the hell are they to tell you what is “fair” in poetry writing? That sort of shit makes for “poetry snobs.” I say, Rethabile is right…dream imagery is some of the most powerful. I sometimes have memories that make me wonder, “Did that really happen, or was it just a dream?” My only suggestion is to maybe not even reveal it is a dream until the last line…put the reader in the moment with you by just saying, “Last night a flood rose”


  14. Nathan says:

    This is beautiful. I love that the flood “smells like frogs.” And it’s only unfair to attempt to prohibit any part of our experience from creating our poetry.


  15. christine says:

    Holly, thanks for your advice on the ending. I don’t mind though, that I start out admitting it’s a dream. I’m going for the idea that this is a dream many of us have had.

    Rethabile, I’m glad you liked my reading. I really need to do it more often, because poetry is sound. I’d love to hear your brother-in-law’s reaction.

    Joyce, I wanted to say it is a dream, but I might play with it. I’ve written lots of poems based on dreams, where I don’t reveal where my metaphors and symbols come from, but this time I wanted to be transparent. But I’m not above experimenting with it. It’s a rough draft, after all.

    Thanks, Nathan. I’m getting the idea that the frogs line is a keeper, *smile* And I agree, why should we limit what is allowed into our poems?


  16. S.L. Corsua says:

    I’m all for using dream imagery in poetry. It fuels the imagination of both the writer and the reader. I’m curious, though, as to why the poetry workshop leader said what he/she said. Interpretation branches out, possibly in as many directions as there are readers. So, for him/her to say/imply that the dream symbolism is “too obscure to be understood”… well, this poetry workshop leader is clearly, unfortunately, UNFAIRLY underestimating readers of poetry.

    That being said, I’ve immensely enjoyed the scenery in this poem of yours. I like poems that take me places — real or not. 😉 One more thing, on a personal note, the poem makes me think of the fear of drowning, though not necessarily in relation to water (maybe drowning ‘in something else’ — something mundane, possibly).



  17. ybonesy says:

    I will listen to this in audio but first wanted to comment on what I read. I love that you included both Spanish and English. One of my most favorite words in Spanish is “cocdrilo” btw. 8) The Spanish just flowed beautifully. I am impressed by your command after all these years of the language.


  18. Michelle says:

    C, I’ve just listened to the audio of the Spanish and English versions of the poem. The Spanish is magical (even though I don’t understand it, what a beautiful language) and I love the poem in English.

    You have a great, clear reading voice that is easy on the ear.


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