Chard deNiord

February 21, 2018 deNiord Chard

  “Do I wake or sleep?”

 John Keats


I sat in the parking lot of the sleep clinic

for an hour before my appointment

staring out at the mountains in the distance

that appeared as gorgeous bodies in both

prone and supine positions inhaling the sky—

dreaming themselves of all the ephemeral

things the clouds inspire in their eternal

pastime for now.

How I got to this place

is a mystery I can’t explain.

Call it exhaustion,

providence, coincidence…

The important

thing was that I was there on a couple

of plains at once with an eye that was blind

to itself in its socket of sky but sharp

in its vision of a hazelnut.

I opened

my eyes and went on dreaming, which I called

a symptom of my sleeplessness.

It was

the condition I had developed after

so many years of nearly dying from suf-

focating in my sleep, which was why

I was there at the clinic dozing off

in my car.

But back to the mountains

and sky and goddess who suddenly

descended on me from a cloud in the form

of the cloud from which she descended—

most beautiful Isis—and then translated me

on the Nile because the parking lot was also

the Nile and she was the Mother of Time

again and I the Father who was playing

dead, at least in my dream.

Say it wasn’t

true and I’ll reply it was because it was,

just as a child believes that she can fly

or disappear or metamorphose into

a bear and wears a costume to prove it

and has friends over who believe

in her magic and take part in the scenes

that she makes up inside the forest

of her room.

So yes, my make-believe

was true if also ridiculous—a private myth

with legs that ran right out of my dream

and onto the page of sky for all to read

and believe as a myth that was like a book

at evening, beautiful but untrue, like a book

on rising, beautiful and true.

                                        So, did I wake

or dream?


I slept but my heart was awake,

was what I wanted to tell the doctor whose name

I had forgotten—that I was blessed, blessed

in my exhaustion, tuned in to the blue

beyond the clouds that transported me

in a high, oneiric fugue in which I could hear

the sounds that David heard in the hills

which had no words or speech but only

the silence that loves the company of a mind

fused to sky.

Only the heart divining the hum

of stars.

“Don’t give me gold, but a piece

of paper,” I said to myself as a snoozing cipher

because I was receiving news like a radio tuned

to s station on a clear, sidereal evening

when the stars are so amazingly bright they shine

right through you and suddenly a voice

comes clear in a phrase or two that seems

nonsensical at first but works surprisingly well

as a caption for the dream you’re having

about something else that sounds so unrelated

until you hear its echo with your third invisible

ear and understand just then how deeply

besotted language is with that as this

and this as that in the voices of others

in the atmosphere whose world-wide wings

are bedighted with sacred feathers that fall

like pages with all our names.

I sat suspended

between the dash and the heaven within me,

calling it “father”, calling it “her”, calling it


It hardly mattered as long

as it was other.

“Yes, the clouds are a lullaby,”

I continued.

“Yes, the zoo calls out to me.

Yes, I took my meds, and no, they’re hardly

indeterminate, friend, these metaphysical

puzzles that need a dream for you to put

together, that come in pieces like the clouds

for you to see just where they go by closing

your eyes and then remembering.”

But who was writing any of this down,

my recitation, and how did I remember?

And did you know the sacrifice I made

by even talking to you in my diurnal slumber?

Then suddenly the noontime whistle sounded

and I awoke from waking and opened the door

of my car in which I’d spoken with a beautiful

goddess who rescued me from inside that dark

interior in which I’d died to this world

but emitted such sweetness in my death

as a god myself she smelled me out.

How still I had lain on my catafalque inside

my sedan, receiving the news, conceiving time—

that ticking child, that mewling babe

at his mother’s breast on the Nile.

How alive

and distant I’d been in death to the world

that hangs like a jewel from the sky and lifts

you up like a cloud into its blue when you dream

of dying alive in your car with the windows

down and a warm spring breeze blowing through.

Thank goodness then for the whistle at noon

that woke me in time to save me from

another wait of a month or two to see

the specialist who thinks that I more

than likely suffer from “a pretty serious

case” of apnea and would I mind spending

the night in one of the clinic’s rooms,

where his assistant, the brilliant Ms Matoon,

can hook me up to a REM machine

that measures my heart and dreams?

“Not at all,” I said.

  “By all means.”






















Chard deNiord is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently In My Unknowing (University of Pittsburgh Press 2020) and Interstate (U. of Pittsburgh, 2015). He is also the author of two books of interviews with eminent American poets titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century Poetry (Marick Press, 2011) and I Would Lie To You If I Could  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). He co-founded the New England College MFA program in 2001 and the Ruth Stone Foundation in 2011. He served as poet laureate of Vermont from 2015 to 2019 and taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-two years at Providence College, where is now a Professor Emeritus. He lives in Westminster West, Vt. with his wife, the painter, Liz Hawkes deNiord.