Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Dreams of Desire

Recently, several people requested that I post some of the poems I wrote more than fifteen years ago that were published in a small chapbook of poetry called Dreams of Desire (now out of print.) Prompted by these requests I went back and had a look. It’s a strange sensation reading old writing- like visiting a friend you haven’t seen for years but would still recognize anywhere. I’ve decided to share three of the poems here: “Twyla” (based on a conversation I had with Seneca elder Twyla Nitsch of the Wolf Clan), “Night Tears,” and “My Breasts.” These poems are about living intimately with ourselves- with our longing, our grief and the body-self that is inseparable from mind, heart and soul. When I read them now I hear, beneath the stories and the emotions, a great tenderness for the sometimes challenging, often confusing, but nevertheless sweetness of our human experience.


At her kitchen table
sharing tea
in the pale morning light
I ask the widow,
"How long were you married?"
And she replies,
“I am married.
Though my husband died twelve years ago
he is still
as he was for eighteen years
before that
my husband."

I can see in her eyes
and in the way her hand reaches
for the cream
that it is true.
And I know
last night,
alone in her bed
as she slipped across the borderland
she felt him curled around her
the soft hair of his chest
against her thin back
his strong thighs
along the curve of her aging buttocks
his wide fingers
gently cupping her softly sagging breast.

It is, as it has always been.
The separation
of years
or even worlds
dull their ache for each other.

her watery blue eyes
watch my face
as my fingers
trace the sun's patterns
on the plastic tablecloth.

I long for a great love.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 1995

Night Tears

There is a crying
that happens at night
that does not come
while the light is with us.
There are things that cannot
be evaded
once the sun goes down.
Small nocturnal creatures
with sharp white teeth
silently gnaw at the edges of
belly and heart
when the darkness descends
and the void inside
grows larger.

It can split you open.

And bone
in the centre of your chest
like the cracked wishing bone
from the turkey breast.

And if we are strong enough
to be weak enough
we are given a wound
that never heals.

It is the gift
that keeps the heart open.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 1995

My Breasts

My breasts
are my mother's breasts
sagging, stretched, flattened
large brown-pink nipples
flecked with small dots
like the tiny bumps on the uncooked turkey
where feather quills have been removed.
The areola is edged with thin blue veins
and sometimes sprouts wiry hairs
to be plucked.

At nine years old
I walk into the bathroom
filled with warm steam
and the scent of Chantilly Lace talcum powder
and look away quickly
when my eyes touch my mother's breasts
as she bends over to dry her feet.
But she catches me
and answers my look
with a slash of her voice.
"Yes, this is what you did to me-
you and your brother.
My breasts got smaller with each of you.
Good thing I didn't nurse or I'd have
nothing left."

Year later I’ll realize it’s not
the size that is mourned
but the smooth firmness
and the delicate shell pink
of unstretched nipples
reaching up to meet the world.

At nine, I look down at my blue sneakers
ashamed at the ugliness of life
and wonder what she feels she has left
for herself.

She tells me how she refused to nurse
repeating the story
of the woman next to her in the maternity ward.
The nurse yelled at the woman for
eating too much fruit,
said it had caused her nursing baby's bottom
to turn red and raw.
I have heard this story so often I can see it:
the nurse in starched white reliable efficiency
indignantly removing the offending fruit basket;
the woman in her pink bathrobe
indulgently lying in bed
her face stricken with shame at her gluttony;
the baby, its bottom like raw meat
wailing in agony.
There is a fierceness in my mother
as she tells the story and adds,
"Who needed that!
You had to watch everything you ate
couldn't go anywhere."

I wonder where she wanted to go.

I wonder how so many untruths
so much shame
could be sown and cultivated so quickly
and so strongly
that a whole generation of women
stopped the impulse of millennia
to suckle their babies.

Her doctor, she tells me, was old-fashioned
and angry at her decision.
Asked her what she thought those things were for,
anyway - putting under sweaters?
I see her in the red matching sweater set as she tells
me proudly how she held to her choice.
It must have taken great courage
at nineteen
alone in his office
to defy the absolute authority
of God the Father, the Doctor.

When two hard bumps appear on my chest
like traitors in our midst
I say nothing
until she accuses me
of stuffing the front pockets
of my peach-coloured blouse
with Kleenex.
Ignoring my denials
she rams a hand
into the offending pocket
and opens her eyes in surprise
as I wince in pain
and she finds
no tissue.

The bumps grow,
never large
but round enough
to bring forth my Grandmother's
declaration that those of us
without bras
or girdles
or corsets
or stockings
are all "bouncing around like cows."
I never saw my grandmother's breasts
behind their cages
of linen and wire
and do not dare to
imagine them
even now.

Not too much later
on a warm summer night
parked by the lakeshore
in an old Dodge Dart
the boy whose kisses
were improving with
moves his fingers tentatively
across the soft cotton of my
halter top
lightly brushing my nipples.
Bolts of electric blue
flash through me
making my back arch
and my legs tense
and my mouth ravenous on his.
My response is so explosive
he jumps
and, with one sleeve caught
on the gear shift between us,
somehow gets the other
wrapped in the steering wheel
sending a loud long blast of the horn
out over the lake.
Angry cries erupt from
others parked in nearby cars.
And I laugh and laugh from the centre
of my soft belly
until my sides ache
at our awkward innocence
and at the discovery
of the delicious and frightening desire that
pours through my limbs
from these small breasts.

A year later I arrive,
a girl from the bush of the north
in the big dark city.
I walk from the bus terminal
to my small rented room
with my back pack
long hair loose down my back
dressed in my blue jeans
and a white T-shirt
over unfettered breasts.
A man passes
stares at my chest
and speaks loudly,
"What kind of girl are you to be walking
around like that?"
I cross my arm over my breasts and feel
the crimson heat of shame.

Years later
my breasts grow with milk
straining, filling
firm and dripping
for the hungry mouths of my sons
each in his turn
drawing his life
greedily from me
with small sighs
and moans
of exquisite contentment
at all hours of day and night.
At times I sleep for an hour
trying desperately to fill myself
and awake to his cry
of hunger
or loneliness
or fear
and offering my breast
watch as he
sucks that one hour of rest
from my body
leaving me empty
and struggling to stand again.
I never regretted it
though my body struggled
and fevers raged in aching limbs.
I wanted to offer the best of what I had
for their beginnings
unsure of what wisdom I had to give
in the on-going journey.
I smiled
even at 3 a.m.
when one of them
finally finished,
stretched, arching his back
and wrinkling his velvet brow
and lay his pink cheek
shiny wet from the sweet milk
against my breast
as we all do
to sleep and dream
connected to the source of peace
and contentment.

My mother
and saw
and left.

Years later,
my sons half grown
and my breasts half shrunk like
those I saw on my mother
in the bathroom years ago,
a would-be lover
at a workshop on spiritual sexuality
suggests a little plastic surgery
might move me
closer to the image of the Goddess
I want to learn to embody
in the sacredness of my female form.
Closer to the image of the Goddess he is seeking,
more likely.
I move away from him
but the idea is planted
and I roll it around
like a marble in the mouth.
I collect a little information:
the costs
the risks
the options.
But only one bit sticks:
there is a loss of sensation in the nipple with implants
and a touch
a kiss
or a well-placed tongue
can still send waves of light
through my limbs
though rarely so strongly
as in the Dodge Dart
and never so unanticipated.
I will not surrender this small pleasure.

I have no daughter
in whom to leave
these stories of the breast.
Perhaps it is just as well.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 1995


  1. Being a poet myself I can relate to the familiarity yet distance that is evident when I visit writings of 15, twenty and even thirty years ago. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed each piece and shared in some of the emotion. It's amazing the power of words to touch the very depths of a person.

  2. Dear Oriah, thank you for these beautiful poems, softly soothing & a little sad. I really love the way your words touch something profound, an undercurrent of life. They comfort me, and sadden me, i guess these feelings live closely together. Such a lovely gift you have: to give meaning to dreary days.Thank you for keeping this blog. Greetings from the Netherlands.

  3. Lovely, lovely poems. Thank you.

    Laurie in Utah

  4. I wonder at why these three poems together? It raises curiosity in me. And yet each of them speaks to something I am now or always deal with emotionally and spiritually. The first one I have read before and thank you for sharing again. It gives hope but also is sad because most of us will never know a great love or should I says see that is is there for us. We cannot see through our wounding.
    The second I related to but am not content with what I hear it say so I am still listening.
    The third poem I say thank you for being so open and honest. It is amazing how you touch on so many areas of life and living through experiences relating to just one physical part. I laughed and cried. And shake my head because the way I feel every time I remember reading it is so upbeat that I can laugh. I will share this poem with my daughter.
    I am reminded of a friend who is so open and loves life that she radiates. A few years ago while she was expecting her daughter I was her craniosacral therapist
    and was privileged to watch their intermingled auras during a session. It was truly a beautiful experience to see and know how much love and respect they had for each other. I share this because they are still so beautiful to watch. Yes they have there growing pains and disagreements. but I would that we all could have a rich loving relationship with our mothers. The joy that I experience when I occasionally see them is like the joy I receive from your poem.
    Thank you

  5. Lately when I write,
    I can feel an energy form in my belly
    gently swirling around within,
    selecting the right words
    the right flow
    the right shape
    to express itself.

    What is this new form of writing
    that seems to be flowing through me?
    Is it poetry?
    Am I a poet?
    If I am, how can I possibly share
    the raw material
    that flows forth effortlessly
    with others?

    I am not a poet.
    The exploration of my inner world,
    feelings captured in a moment
    and shaped with language
    cannot be considered art.
    Definitely not.
    Then others may want to witness it.
    Definitely not a poet.

    But yet I discover here tonight,
    that I was wrong.

    Thank you for sharing your poetry.
    It helped me accept this emerging part of myself.
    I am now encouraged
    to consider this new form of creative expression
    as art, as poetry
    and perhaps to even risk
    allowing it to be seen
    by others.


  6. Thank you for sharing your poem, 'My Breasts'.

  7. Dear Oriah, I was introduced to your work through a counselor I recently began seeing. I was wondering if I could re-post the Breasts poem on my site

  8. Happy to have you share - please credit as follows:

    From Dreams of Desire by Oriah (c) 1995. All rights reserved. Presented with permission of the author.