Sarah Arvio: eleven poems from night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis

Sarah Arvio: eleven poems from night thoughts: 70 dream poems & notes from an analysis
March 13, 2013 Arvio Sarah

eleven poems from night thoughts:  70 dream poems & notes from an analysis

from a word to the reader:

night thoughts is an exploration of the dreaming mind. It is also an intimate memoir, describing the evolution of a psychoanalysis and the events that gave rise to that treatment. It gives the reader a set of dream poems, then notes and an index of images.

from the Notes:


The dreams rarely referred to my present life: they drew me into the long past.

The dreams told in these poems are parts of dreams— for me the memorable and iconic parts… I had many, many more dreams with similar imagery; the poems describe the dreams that seemed to matter most.

I came to understand that the mind seeks to disguise and conceal what is too painful or shaming to endure–and at the same time offers up clues to the secret. The clues appear in troubling dreams or disrupt the sane mind with their terrors.

The linked poems below lead to related thoughts in the Figures section of the Notes:


oh hell

There are still the bad dreams I have to say

a dram in the thought of a bad bad night

a bad potion potent with impotence

& pain that dream in which you say I

am ruined with you I am no more &

the taxi leaves me standing in the street

& the streetlamp goes out there is this sort

of dream that leaves me without a heart or

more like with a hole in my selfheart

heartself that hellhole of a dream

o hole o hell the inside of my mind

damning me with bad portents & potions

you said to come I came & you killed me

this kind of killing that kills me again




the leopard girl lands & she takes a turn

in the leafy woods she leaps & she lands

she is a leaper as I also am

look at her redbreasts as she takes the turn

those are my breasts I say to my mother

or as though to my mother who is dead

shiny red satin she wears on her breasts

under the spotted cape that flings out wide

who is the redhaired redbreasted leaper

all burning up in her greengirl joy

a leaper of a girl that’s what she is

coy bravura the joy of her breasts

look how she glitters in her coyjoy

how brave she is in her red satin breasts



three boys

I forgot the three boys for many years

who took me into the woods with them

or I went along with them wanting them

& they barely touched me in my terror

playing at touching as though it were done

& nothing was touched & nothing done

but I did not know that nothing was done

& I did not know for most of my life

even that I went to the woods with them

or that they had done nothing to me

& when I remembered I saw the leaves

that were brown & knew it wasn’t spring

& saw the light that was not spring light

& my jacket that was dirtied by leaves




then I remember that I once cut off

the tail of a squirrel I hauled from the woods

thinking of something that was kittensoft

I laid it on my mother’s cutting board

it was big dank dead & fur gray stiff

why did she let me cut the tail on her

cutting board I didn’t like it it was

hard inside & the fur was rough I had

to bear down & grind I didn’t like it

but had begun & so went on  I saw

the fur teacup in the glass case   when I

sipped I gagged this was not surrealism

it was super real it made me hot & bored

squirrelism it made me squirrel inside




I’m lying in a drift on the white road

white dark roadside in the snowingwhite snow

wearing a light slip or my nakedness

& the snow drifts are drifting against me

in the blurring snow the whirr of some wheels

& a pair of snowslow lights are turning

I must roll over roll away & hide

my hips won’t roll as I will them to roll

if they see me for sure they will hurt me

white snowslurred lights sweepstrafe my nakedness

hurt me or leave me naked in the cold

strafe my heels hips shoulders straggled hair

I’d rather be hurt than left in the cold

lovely I am turning in the snowcold



three vases 

the three glass vases standing in the hall

in a last ray of summer evening light

each of the vases holding three roses

drowning underwater the three roses

yellowrose pinkrose & also bluerose

down in the water their fullpetal heads

that flow a little like little girls’ hair

in the dark hall in a last ray of light

we were three little girls is that the three

I was born third on the third of a month

on the wallpaper were three old roses

over & over the same old roses

the dreamdrowning flowinghair roses

& in the dream a ray of evening light



red buick 

there’s an old red buick on a mountain

& a red phone     in life the redphone was

in the hall & the realgirl robin phoned

& said we heard you did something that

begins with f & ends with  u—c—k

& it’s not firetruck I spelled it out

& thought is that what I did or did not

or else maybe almost firetruck uckfuck

& I heard her laugh & another girl

laughed years later I saw her & she said

we were all doin’ it you were too young

my softsillyself taking the redphone

hearing the firetruck & burning red

alone redface on the mountain alone




my mother comes at me waving a knife

there’s a long mirror on the closet door

I’m looking in the terror mirror &

I’m thinking her knife is a rhyme for life

but this is a murderous reflection

nowhere to hide from my life or hers

nowhere to hide but in the long mirror

in the mirror where nothing is hidden

except all that is lying behind us

I don’t see us I see where we once were

with our long love mirrored & closeted

& now here she is waving the lifeknife

as close as I can come to disclosure

she isn’t dead there is no closing yet




in my dream notes there was a missing word

that belonged to a place called valley road

I wrote every thought that came to my mind

behind the lost word fell the missing clue

on south valley road was the stonewell house

& the clue to the terrible bloodthought

the thought that had been cutting up my life

& stone was what I used to hide the thought

& well was the place where it was hidden

sometime after the stabbing happened

we had often gone down the valley road

& the thought was I was the sarah slashed

& valley was the place my life would go

& going down was also going south



olivia de havilland 

I tell olivia I would rather die

than let them throw my suitcase overboard

while the boat rocks & the spray splashes up

everyone’s suitcase must go overboard

but my case is more dire more desperate

because I have nothing left in the world

only my suitcase & the drenching deck

she says she will help me I weep & wail

if I lose my suitcase I’ll go overboard

her last name is havilland which means

have a land meaning will you have some land

& land is what I need to do & have

I’m far out to sea on the lurching deck

I need a remedy to suit the case




there isn’t an end this is what I know

there is no end & no bottom to it

this makes me think of the bottom of me

that is bottomlessly infinite in me

in my moods that go swinging through myself

selfmood mindself always overwhelmed

by what happened or else didn’t happen

what didn’t happen was that I was loved

I was bottomless in my falling down

through the bottomlessness of the unloved

the end of life I think is to be loved

or to love someone else who must be loved

that is bottomland to the bottomlife

a place to lie down & a place to kiss



Excerpted from night thoughts, copyright (c) 2013 by Sarah Arvio, by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Sarah Arvio’s newest book of poetry is Cry Back My Sea (Knopf 2021)she has also recently published Poet in Spain: new translations of poems and a play by Federico García Lorca (Knopf 2017). Arvio, who attended the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York, has won a number of prizes, including the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Her poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, Boston Review, The American Poetry Review, and in many other journals. She has held residencies at the American Academy in Rome, the Residencia de Estudiantes (Madrid), the Collège international des traducteurs littéraires (Arles), and at the Yaddo and MacDowell colonies. A lifelong New Yorker, she has worked for many years as a translator for the United Nations in New York and Geneva.  She has also taught at Princeton and Columbia.