Ted Dodson

Dreams (2021) (2023)

In the middle of the night

I come to, out of place

with this line, “The sun is up,”

and this one, “so sky then.”

And I can see the poem,

part me and part Ceravolo,

writing itself in the dark,

knitting together tired

fibers into more brightness.

And I think of tapestries,

Etel Adnan’s recent

at the Guggenheim

that everyone went to see

and posted about, the landscape

rendering to paint to weaving

to image, and how the poem goes

from image from language from image.

I am staring at a balloon

a few days ago in the doctor’s

eye machine, a hot air balloon

at the end of a desert road

on a gradual slope. It’s kinda

North by Northwest but less

threatening. The machine brings

the picture in and out of

focus, the road drops out then appears

again, or a line on the horizon

goes soft, the whole sky whitens

for a second or the balloon pops

its color toward a fuzzy pink

until tightening back to its clown-nose

red. My eyelids undo for a second,

and Marie and Marcello focus

near me then the poem’s edges

fray into lashes and again into the wool of a dream,

a familiar one. I’m in a grand theater,

grand in the way that dreams, like standing

between two mirrors, make the decadent

more decadent through an object

pleating that assumes infinity. Red velvet

tiers and gilded balconies layer

like shark teeth, rows and rows dashed

unevenly, running into and over

the proscenium hung with gravity

defying seating, the dress circle

as I think back on it now. There

must be tens of thousands of people

getting ready to watch a film

on a screen the size of a field,

broad (massively), and the film

starts up, and there are people

in the aisles with camcorders

pointed at the screen, ready to

pirate the spectacle and

offer it on a P2P torrent site

later for the casual at-home cineaste.

The dream dreams

the mechanism of translation.

These bootleggers are an optic nerve.

This column of text, my boxy camera.

The film screened is always different,

occasionally a foreign film like

the most recent which started

with a teenager teaching their grandfather

how to play Tekken, rolling the controls

over in his hands, punching combos,

the two of them cross-legged on

a shag rug, smiling, staring into their screen

as the audience stares into theirs. I tend

to disengage around this time in

the film, either transported to another

subconscious corner, occasionally more

sinister, or to waking. A childhood

trick of mine to wake from the middle of

a nightmare was to close your eyes

tight as you could in the dream,

as if the tighter you closed them

the more effort went into opening

them safely in bed. A teenage trick

to prolonging sex dreams was the opposite.

Keep your eyes open on the, sometimes

banal and sometimes obscure, object of

desire. Whatever directs waking

during dreams seems to unfairly treat

dream sex, by way of psychological imperative,

as much more readily dismissed than dream terror

as if dream sex were too gauche and performative

in comparison, less important to the dream life,

and knowing that to replicate desire in waking life,

the director must drag me away from any scene

too sumptuous, the long hook of lack waiting

in the wings just offstage to draw me from

the klieg lights. Terror, then, is to be

suffered in dreams because of its absence

while waking, but these are only my dreams.

There is no longer any use in hurting me,

I’ve told my dreams, but they know I don’t

believe myself, and I wake sometimes

with fear availing itself of my helpless mind

and waking Marie in the process, who tells me

I was moaning as if I were falling backward

suddenly off a steep drop and who unlike me

will not be snatched into an immediate falling-back-to

but glide to the couch with her phone or a book,

scooping Marcello to accompany her or sometimes

bringing her copy book to write, awake until the even

earlier hours—I’m never sure when—then she’ll drift

back off, and I’ll find her in the morning with veiling

arm over eyes, a statuesque refusal of

the sun tempered through thin strawberry curtains

we wash once a year and they broaden our apartment

with that familiar chemical aroma of fresh spring,

strangely convivial and comforting despite

its contrivance. It’s an idea of spring, nonetheless,

that came from somewhere known, perhaps a childhood

souvenir of a wildflower pasture, meadow grasses, and

unmanaged earth drawn into a cloudless afternoon

then canopied with the fall of night.



I could hear myself
bouncing back

in our bedroom
the unstructured howl

echoed cry
gripping the line

that pulls back
to waking

half an apple
dipped in hot

candy whose
sweet I’m unsure

but it’s not
for me

The dream
goes like this

there are stairs
leading me away

from a station
(often I’m on

trains in dreams)
and as I descend

the stairs turn
from cement

a city stair
reminding me

of Oyama
or Brooklyn

or DC
or Montreal

or Paris
or Oakland

I have exited

a train or
perhaps felt

that transitory

of being lost
and on stairs

the dense

night of dream
that cloud dark

periphery that is

else unpierced
by the long probes

of attention
stimulated like

fingers holding
buttons on

the existence of things
edging on

and off
the stairs

which become

in transition
to another memory

of childhood
a play structure

the excitement of

between levels
plunging lower

until suddenly
I’m alone and

then it’s all
a flash white like

the end of a film
and the reel

has emptied
the lamp

has nothing
to project

but itself
the emptiness

the sudden distance
between self and scene

separated in a blink
from the dream

impaled like youth
through tragedy

Sharon Stone
used that phrase

in her memoir
“Their youth impaled me”

though it’s likely
to have been authored

by someone else
that construction

such and such
“impaled me”

is used several times
because its

knows it does

heavy imagistic
lifting and bears

it shortcuts

the job
the implications

of the nightmare’s
youth impales me

and I believe
I have died

or ended
otherwise rewound 

it’s hard to tell
which way

the reel runs
out so I cry

in whatever
direction is out

Guest begins
The Blue Stairs

“There is no fear
in taking the first step
or the second
or the third”

                                yet ends
                                with (nearly)

“eternal banishment”
though she
does not comment


this is frightful
but at the very
end of the poem
the stairs are


mention of how

they had been
taken away
The drama of removal

                                a disarmed state

Ghosted indifference
pushed another
image to the side

                                as one who throws knives

or controls the throttle
on language entering
public awareness


What schema
has been devised
to deplatform
our leaders

                                knocking on doors

The discovery
under the surface
wasn’t for everybody

How it was crucial
felt personal


Tension looped
like it would
the wrist of a friend

                                walking into traffic

Why it was terrifying
was site-specific

The subterranean
trap door opening

                                ray of sickness

Unseen hands
rending the dream

It deforms into
an eye-white

This is what I think it is
to lose your point of view

and remain

In an open concept
of arrested machinery
neither gorgeous
nor otherwise

Being conventional
and aware of
its convention
An eye sees itself

a series of lovers

                                moving like glass

The humiliation
in fashioning
an outdated metaphor

Becoming boundaried
in a counterfeit
resisting progression

To undermine
and result in collapse

Dream interpretation
blown-in as buttress
like a card between pages

                                dipped in a mercenary fragrance

The rules
I’m reminded

are inside my head
Outside is bouncing back

                                eternal banishment

It is usual to wake
when one misses a step
or a second or a third

And unable to return
war comes
unrolled like a rug

Ted Dodson is the author of An Orange (Pioneer Works / Wonder, 2021) and, with Kit Schluter, co-translator of Death at the Very Touch / The Cold by Jaime Sáenz (Action Books, 2025). He is a contributing editor for BOMB, an editor-at-large for Futurepoem, and a former editor of The Poetry Project Newsletter.