The Drowning Man Dreams of Different Deaths

Toppling from a tightrope
stretched between your bare knees

Last fallen man in a dance contest

Jumping from a plane wearing a
backpack instead of a parachute

dying, as they say, of laughter

Stomach so stuffed with sweets
the witch can barely cram you
into her glowing oven

Of thirst, mouth too dry to form words

So quickly from the impact
you still can’t believe it

In your sleep
stiffening into
something of an embrace

James Dickey

James Dickey: An Appreciation


A few early poems:

James Dickey (1923-1997) was, to my mind, simultaneously one of the most well known and one of the least appreciated authors in America. Most people are aware of Dickey’s work even if they themselves don’t know that they are: his novel Deliverance won the prestigious French Prix Medicis and was later made into an Academy award-winning film in the early seventies that almost everyone has seen (or heard thanks to its famous “Dueling Banjo” soundtrack).

But Dickey’s first love—and he explicitly made this point many times—was poetry. And strangely, despite being more popularly known for his fiction, it was in his poetry that Dickey was truly something of a revolutionary. Sometimes it is the case that a pervasive influence on poetry is known most fully only to other poets, particularly if the poet is one who, like Dickey, is primarily known for a single piece of fiction. I heartily recommend his fiction to anyone, but I strongly suggest that anyone who hopes to write poetry today be familiar with Dickey’s work.


Last of the really early poems for a while, this one circa 1990. I make no claims for these other than that they are, indeed, poems.


I entered the dark to the sound of a voice
Echoed a thousand times, an exploring shadow
Which called all of me to revel in the night

Battling Lawrence

Another early poem, circa 1991. This was originally titled “Sleeping with D. H. Lawrence.” I’m not sure why I changed the title.

Battling Lawrence

I dream at night of sleeping with D. H. Lawrence.
Unafraid of the movement
I sway under him, feeling the motions
Of a hundred frustrating imagined women.
In their vagueness they are too much like me
And I am lost in the whirl, waiting for some
Distinction to surface until eventually,
Faceless, I curl around myself
Tight and fetal,
His warmth and person comforting
And slippery seeping out of me.

Remember Voyager

You’re barely beyond the grasp of our small sun refusing to let go. Wave goodbye to our last, demoted planet. Next stop: Alpha Centauri proximity, year 19600 AD. In the time it took humans to evolve from neanderthal to digital lemming you’ll cross the lawn to say hello to our next-door neighbor. If there’s life there that resembles your gold-etched humans, they’ll be more human than I. Here I carry a practical supercomputer in my pocket that can connect to Dial-a-Prayer across 13,000 miles, guided by a cranial electric storm, while mapping the walk where I tripped over a lost, tilted grave. You cross 13,000 miles in a fraction of a second, steered by a computer less powerful than a Pac Man watch. Who knows what seed you carry. I fell to Earth before you left our atmosphere. Blink three times if you miss me.

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