“Mad Maud’s Four Dreams,” Melissa Green





Once seized by sleep I dreamt I was at captived at Bridewell where all trulls
and gillots go     I knew the place for I’d picked hessian and oakum there

and taken flogging by a scourge of holly leaves      Roped at the wrists
to one who walked ahead and one behind we came in from the fields and lay

upon the grave-cold ground under iron grates     And in my dream I dreamt
another In high summer I saw momently a sparrow flit above a golden lea

and fly into the brumous wood where there was only rustling and silence
‘Tis Maud      as swiftly gone as those wings crossing a yellow meadow

I dreamt thrice     By a mizzling shore St. Cuthbert knelt on stones to pray
Ice in his beard    frost silvering his steepled hands     Two otters bounded

from the water and breathed upon his feet to warm them    rolling back
and forth upon him they tried with their fur to dry his blue besobled skin

He had for solace   sorrow   longing   winter   want   cold   darkness   death
Wind whistling across heath and moorlands    saturating marshlands

and fens in their flux    I dreamt a fourth    The wide blackening sky of Albion
roared overhead    and I wept that neither sun nor youth nor hope nor love

would come again    I crawled into an hollow oak     pulled lichen over me
Maud shall have no church or coffin    song or blessing    priest or cross

In the mews of the dream in a bark-beetled sepulchre    Maud shall have
a glimmergowk to hoot her elegy    shall nither there until the mawks

liquefy her skin    boil at her heart with their white roilings    her body
unhouselled    her soul left to the earth and night    extinguishing

“Mad Maud’s Dream” is one of a series of poems based on two anonymous call-and-response poems, perhaps from the sixteenth century, called “Tom O’Bedlam” and “Mad Maudlin’s Search.” Harold Bloom called “Tom O’Bedlam” “the greatest anonymous lyric in the language.” Nine poems from the series appear in Little Star #3 (2012).

Hear Melissa Green read with Tom Sleigh at Suffolk University in Boston this Thursday! More info here.

Melissa Green is the author of The Squanicook Eclogues, 52, and the memoir Color is the Suffering of Light. She is the contributing editor of Little Star.

See Melissa Green read at a celebration of her work with Derek Walcott, Robert Pinsky,  Rosanna Warren,  David Ferry, Gail Mazur, and Frank Bidart here.