Cover image for Midwinter day
Midwinter day
Mayer, Bernadette.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Directions, 1999.

Physical Description:
119 pages ; 23 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.A952 M54 1982 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"Midwinter Day," as Alice Notley noted, "is an epic poem about a daily routine." A poem in six parts, Midwinter Day takes us from awakening and emerging from dreams through the whole day-morning, afternoon, evening, night-to dreams again: ". . . a plain introduction to modes of love and reason/Then to end I guess with love, a method to this winter season/Now I've said this love it's all I can remember/Of Midwinter Day the twenty-second of December//Welcome sun, at last with thy softer light/That takes the bite from winter weather/And weaves the random cloth of life together/And drives away the long black night!"

Author Notes

Called "a consummate poet" by Robert Creeley, Bernadette Mayer was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1945. A most prolific poet, her first book was published at the age of twenty-three. Many texts later she continues to write progressive poetry from her home in East Nassau, New York. For many years Mayer lived and worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she was the Director of St. Mark's Poetry Project from 1980-1984. Bernadette Mayer has received grants and awards from PEN American Center, The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art, the NEA, The Academy of American Poets, and The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

First published in 1982 by Turtle Island, this book-length poem makes an excellent introduction to Mayers work, and its re-release signals a growing recognition of her achievement. Written about one day in her life, the book uses both long, elegant lines (occasionally and humorously rhyming) and prose poetry (reminiscent of her works from the 70s like Studying Hunger and Memory) to prove that the day like the dream has everything in it. Cataloging this everything, as it comes out ofand vanishes back intothe quotidian routine of buying food, going to the library, cooking for children, visiting friends and writing, becomes an occasion for Mayers characteristic enthusiasm, inventiveness and brilliance. With conscious nods to UlyssesStately you came to town in my opening dream, Mayer divides the day into six (rather than 18) sections, reversing Joyce by beginning with dreams. Events in the poems presentMarie says she wants to read a book before I fix the rest of dinnerfold into the writers own past (car accidents, early relationships, family history), the pasts of writers like Margaret Fuller and Hawthorne, and into encyclopedic speculations about art making, scientific discoveries and travel to the North Pole. It is Mayers unexpected and various ways of linking personal experience and public historySo when I write of love I write of/ Binding referendums, bankruptcy intent,/ Industrials, utilities and sales/ The petitions of a citizens groupthat make the book such an important example of her own influential experimentation, and such a thorough pleasure. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Written in one day (December 22, 1978), Mayer's single, long, experimental prose poem is divided into six sections that essentially follow the day from beginning to end. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Stately you came to town in my opening dream Lately you've been showing up alot                                    I saw clearly You were staying in the mirror with me You walk in, the hills are green, I keep you warm Placed in this cold country in a town of mountains Replaced from that balmier city of yours near the sea Now it's your turn to fall down from the love of my look You stayed in the hotel called your daughter's arms No wonder the mother's so forbidding, so hard to embrace I only wait in the lobby, in the bar                                      I write People say, "What is it?" I ask if I must tell all the rest For never, since I was born And for no man or woman I've ever met, I'll swear to that, Have there been such dreams as I had today, The 22nd day of December, Which, as I can now remember, I'll tell you all about, if I can                                   Can I say what I saw In sleep in dreams And what dreams were before your returning arms Took me like a memory to the room I always return to When thought turns to memory's best love, I learn to Deny desire from an acquired habit of vigilant fear Till again to my nursed pleasure you and this love reappear Like a story Let me tell you what I saw, listen to me You must be, you are the beginning of the day When we are both asleep you waken me I'm made of you, you must hear what I must say                                      First I thought I saw People all around me Wondering what it is I write, I saw up close The faces of animals, I slid down a long grassy hill Past everyone doing everything, I was going faster There were no streets to cross, no dignity lost, A long story without pausing I was racing, no one approved of what I was learning, I saw a woman's daughter, we met on the stairs I saw everything that was ever hidden or happening I saw that my daughters were older than me But I wanted to see further                             Nobody including you Of all the people doing things, was approving Of my sliding like this down the long tilting hill Past the place to play and all the past                                         I saw the moon's Last quarter in the southern sky at dawn                                          Then I saw The shawls of the dream as if they were the sky And the dream's dark vests and the dream's collar and cuffs Of black leather on the dream's black leather jackets I was alone in the dream's dressing room trying on Different styles of tough gang-wear or raingear In the dream my daughters Sophia and Marie Are always with me                    Then we climb A mountain to the Metcalf's house, Nancy's fixing us The eighteen intricate courses of a Japanese dinner We sit at a counter curving around the kitchen Like what they call a kidney-shaped pool Eating hearts of heads of wet red and green lettuce In the most high and palmy state of friendly love Then Paul takes us all on a trip                                  A while ago The Japanese lady who lives next door smiled When Marie smelled the fragrance of her cultivated rose Sometimes dream is so rampant, so wild As to seem more luxuriant than day's repose So without riot spreading everywhere How can I be both here and there?                                   Then I found A message in an over-sized book On the way to Allen Ginsberg's nursery school Where Ken Kesey was conducting a big picnic                                             Then I saw All the buildings of New York drawn to look Like the illustrations in a children's book                                             I dreamed The road was so slippery from a truck's oil spill We had to stop at a truckstop Though our friends who were ahead of us might lose us All the food in this place is served in a big dollhouse And the salad's in a hatbox, they're catering to us It's hilarious, suddenly we all crack up                                          We say You don't just eat from the desire to see a vine Which today is called a chicken sandwich You do seem to eat because you wear a hat and so The hat's box is empty and must be filled with food Do you see what I mean, it was a special restaurant I was with Grace Murphy                         Then I dreamed I was ordering pompoms Not those ornamental tufts on hats and not chrysanthemums But a kind of rapid-firing machine gun Really I can't figure out what's good and what's bad I know I want to awaken feeling Some remembered perfection For which I crave a homeopathic dose of evil Like the hair of the dog in the proverb To offset the unsteady state of memory                                        What man or woman Could this be involving, so fleet it is indulging In not quite flying but dreaming, flaunting The short-lived continuity of a sound like hummingbirds What is a story                 Can I say that here Or should I wait till later wherever the question Of life's chronology of satisfying the favored senses Might better gratify the falling course of the grave day As I must come closer to inevitably waking up Like a dying man is dying spoiling the favor You might grant me to extend this liberal time And remit my punishment due though I've confessed already And been forgiven Are you going to convince me There's nothing more to dream up Like sins not committed but related anyway To cover innocence Always listening to everything you see, Watching the sounds of the day                                Wouldn't it be possible To eat everything All the collected foods even you And one's self like the dinosaurs just dying out In some unaccountable hungry fall, cunningly saintlike                                                        The night cometh When no man can work And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his work                                                       I dream I vault the fence, there's a cheerleader Who needs to be kissed and caressed, it's like a blizzard, Like my father I lost my color wheel when I died I go vaulting over the consequent fence and with my ambition I meet Gregory Peck                     I always do                                He looks like you We go to the movies again, we go to two, we always do And all the children are put, Thrust, driven, goaded, impelled and flung, Urged and pushed into bed                           Then I can dream We move again to the house where I was born I'm wandering and forgetting, we are arranging What rooms each of the children will finally sleep in                                "Can Marie sleep in the hall bedroom                                 or is Andrew still alive?" Andrew, who's like Bill Or Bill's like him,                     this state of things in dreams                     could kill friendship if I told all                     even to Uncle Andrew                     who's also alot like Clark Anyway I know we must share this copied house With my grandfather, another Andrew, who is a little mean Now everybody's here in this room and we are a party to death I look at the old uncle who is still young Andrew or Bill I am trying to remember where in time I am I study his face but all I see is plain expression Not the look of a man who's dead and knows it Like something or someone nobody absolutely needs to know I decide not to say anything about it Already I've looked closer without moving to him, A man without responses but that's beyond all this, I say to myself in dream it's all the same All the people in this room will surely die some time Who cares which ones are already dead, I'm just here now In my dream like I always am among the charms Of sweet Andrew, charming Bill, I can't go on                                               Is there an end To such love and the duty of dreaming, Things seen eyes closed not seeming to be dreams Like the blackest edges once I saw outlining Each leaf in spring one year or the jewels I saw With Grace lying together before a thunderstorm I could suggest to her then and she to me What kind of thing would appear to us next In the train of the vision moving from right to left Under love's closed eyes                          I hope you can see as much When I try to suggest among lines of the evaporating word What idea I've seen, what image each dream heard There's no end to a narration of forms From all the ways of looking eyes closed                                          Now I see What's ordinary like a sky Or weather I can hear without ever looking As blind people suddenly given sight Sometimes will abhor it and shut their eyes again To be more conversant with the actual view                                            And I know You too can see better in the dark Love's eyes open anyway behind your quiet shoulder I dream you awaken and it's day I wish for the night of our reassuring love Daily taken to the market and all kinds of stores To be ridiculed and fooled, ignored and reduced Daily tested by the tedium of uncondensed routine Long mornings and lightless afternoons that exist in time Till the night for both our work and love Makes us feel love is the same                                Before we had children We used to work all night, eyes open, then sleep For the day, eyes closed to people's mornings                                               If we could We'd walk out independent seeing everything so benefitting Us, the sun and moving, then sleeping Among our bright love, the path of the sun becoming A modest warning of something we were studying                                                Now that our days Are full of normal parts It seems we have all lived forever so far Eyes open, eyes closed, half-open, one eye open One closed to the coming day, past's insistence, Dream's vivid presence, no one knows why Though you can see all I say with half an eye I always have an eye to fascination, you catch my eye                                                       This meditation Not on sleep but on awakening With dreams with everything quickening, you and I Survive this work and rest, not so much lost, We only seem to dream as quickly as we live One for the other to make up time                                   And it's as if Today I had someone else's dreams Everything's the reverse of what it seems Alone at last, I'm also with you The weather's fine, the sky's not only blue                                             Like long preludes I dream I don't want to get into this But it's soothing and exciting like weathering This desire for you, you are being blown maybe away Maybe from me by two men maybe they're women                                              I don't know At Ted and Alice's house, it's like love I was mad, I was jealous, it was like love                                            It must be That dreaming has its effect on dreams                                        Lying on a bed In the dream Ted is on the phone like the Thomas Edison, Tom, Ed or even John Thomas or the anonymous electrician That he is he said and Alice said it's silly to be dead Or jealous either but I feel mute, dumb and mad And thus alive to those two women or are they men Who are giving you a blowjob or at least repairing you Which has to do with something Alice said and something Bill said about the dangers of another                                        The other is two Is this a clue to wake up from dreams And see what I'm forgetting?                              Then a woman I was watching was laid                         Forgive me On a table for something medical to be done Like the glimpse of a scene I innocently noticed In a movie on t.v.                    God please let me Be released Like all songs' version of all loss of love From the movie version of any of my memories Let me go,            "Incident in San Francisco,"                                        let me be I've seen all this before just as innocently Do I have to add That in this sense I'm an incestuous guilty whore Please love me anyway even if I dream my blood Must be exchanged for the blood of another relation Before your eyes made new like my old reputation Something was introduced into the system or taken, An operation, no clearer to me than I've made it to you,                                                          Sorry, That's how it was, I was watching a woman And something was being done to her tentatively Then recovered we sat down together to eat A large flat dull dry cake like awful life I broke it into pieces in my adolescent plate                                               Mothers and fathers Beware of these bereft dream cakes Not like Nancy's mother's milk potato pancakes But dry and without salt and fat preserving life Desultory and unleavened like communion As pleasant to taste as the host eaten at a funeral Mass I do take in this sado-masochistic ceremony Obviously not medical but Cannibalistically sexual, primal and hereditary                                                 It reminds me Of Marie's fascination with watching Sophia's response to pain And in this revolting sextet of dreams Where there are two of everyone in every scene I am watching and hungry to wait While something's done to someone                                   Not me or Bill or Nancy or Andrew But Lewis who, if I need him Can stand in in dreams for my entire past                                           Not to speak of His love for Bill and Bill's for him, Nancy's mothering, My love for that pleasure, for her, Paul and Bill and Lewis and all their parents, Formidable Adrian, not Paul and Nancy's daughter of that name But another one who's dark                            The dream's not exactly fair Their other daughter's name is Ann, Nancy's had two girls, So have I, so did my mother and Beverly, that's Bill's wife There are two Bills                     And so to take a breath If Bill and Paul (and Lewis) could be fathers to me Because each is a man who has had two daughters Then they could also be The two men in the dream who became two women Must I go on?               Ted and Alice have two boys And Ted could be short for Theodore, my father's name So even if the two men were Ted and Alice's two sons It's clear the women they became were my two daughters Seducing their father                       Do you see what I mean? No wonder I was so mad And that's why the woman had to have an operation                                                   Bill said An old Greek woman he used to pass on the street Saw him with his two daughters and said "A big man like you! Why not produce sons!"                                             If Lewis Is my father and my daughter is my mother After whom she's named                        Then all this confusion in the dream Legitimizes the scene and it is not incest                                            First girls As infants love their mothers who are women, then girls Learn how to love men unless they become homosexuals; Boys love their mothers first too and can continue To love women when they grow up Unless they're homosexuals                            The mothers of men and women Are always being loved more later by sons Than by daughters who seem to love fathers better Because that's the way it is                              They say Women love later in a more complicated way Than men who never had to learn to change                                           The sex Of what they call the love object Though they might have anyway                               There's more to it than that Like a woman's identification with a hat or the ground Or a man's with cars, wars or the other way around                                                    Bill said His brother belongs to the Hare Krishnas Who only want to have sons, not daughters Like the old idea of throwing them in the river This dream unnerved me Famous Lewis isn't Theodore, gift of God, nor is Ted I'm not Marie Ann Bernadette I'm Bernadette Frances Catherine My daughter has a teddy bear                              Fuck this shit! Let's get on with it, let's die of fucking respect This respectable mourning is fucking forbidden Day's desirable plans are dressed like dreams Which sell the whole of what I already bought once Back to me, night's deal, to become a part Of day's dalliance with the logic of dream's art                                                  I'd like to open A stationery store In a small New England town, it'd be called The Scarlet Letter                    I dream I'm Lillian Hellman Meeting Jane Fonda                    I don't know why, as far as I know Lewis' Aunt Julia is fine, perhaps it's because Heather, A name like Pearl, is the name of the printer's daughter And his business is called the Hawthorne Press                                                Which reminds me Of another dream about a luncheonette Like this random rhyming this joint was Puerto Rican And like Mike's Variety which used to sell stationery In this narrow town, it was a long narrow place Kind of what you might call a hole in the wall                                                In the dream We live upstairs like the local grocer Reno Cimini Who reminds me of the Borgia's or a burgher Running a place you can run down to for coffee to go                                                      In the dream They served hot spiced jelly at a clean white counter The jelly's on a lazy Susan, I feel I'm on vacation                                                     Keith Thompson, Heather's father, is behind the counter Saying how hard it is to run a small business Just like Hawthorne, he says, who ran a bookstore Combined with a pepper mill, as we all know                                             Maybe it was called The Scarlet Letter in the dream, I can't remember                                                   It's night I stay a long time, then you Come limping and staggering down the street Lewis, why are you so old and so sick?                                        Then I see It's not you at all, it's only my mother                                          And once again I help you down the street, you're complaining I remember you're interrupting all my fun                                           Dear Lewis, When I imagine something's wrong with me I immediately attribute this weakness to you And in this way I make you stand in for my mother As I'm sure most people who live together secretly do I do apologize, I know you are completely another                                                   Then Bob Callahan Pretending to be Don Byrd Came to snap our picture and we felt he might steal our souls He had a craggy old face like the detective In Nicolas Freeling's books, Henri Castang I looked at Bob's face while he posed us He said you must hold still for two whole minutes The camera starts buzzing and clicking by itself Like a time exposure gone haywire except you could see inside To the shutter and the lens like a lentil, All the secret future                       Then I said Please only do our profiles, it's much too long to look And that's when someone brought in my old broken trunk We were going to use it but I guess Marie broke it And the whole inside or lining of the trunk was coming out I think to myself I guess that's my body And this means I'm dreaming isolation is more healthy Than having a family Saying this seemed to make sense                                  Then I said I guess it's really broken and cannot be repaired at all And that's the end                    How suggestible As in a dream of leaves under fluorescent lighting, Next I dream I am imitating your handwriting                                              These dreams are like Arithmetic by Plato, I can count and figure the shadow Of each mother, daughter, father, each representative                                                       I dream A strong brown woman not a black woman but a woman Named Brown who stands for a rich motherly woman Has us to her house for a party It's a house like an institution with a gymnasium                                                   Then Cadillacs And big Lincolns and Mercedes Benz's All line up by the side of the road for an assassination There's a meeting of men All the sons of the people of the world at the party                                                      And suddenly Men on motorcycles come and assassinate all of them We're standing directly in the dream's line of fire, Sophia, Marie and I, but we don't get hit                                           Then we Have to tell the woman her son is dead, shot By a gang of assassins, there's a complication, She doesn't seem to notice us                               The party's moved To an indoor swimming pool like in "Alphaville" Where people dive into the water while they're being shot at She says, "It's a happy occasion today" and we all say She must be a strong woman to deal in such a way With the death of her only son                                The way daughters-in-law In books murder the rich mothers of their husbands To steal money and property and love away from them Like in Sabine where an old woman poet is murdered Because of her house                      This is the mathematics I'm the mother and the poet Something is inferred about an artist who died The daughters are intact, the dream-sons are murdered What's the equation When the mother of the fear of daughters Is the artist not the patroness of double sons, Has she lost less?                    Is she the opposite of strong? They say it's a happy occasion when a baby's born They say about the weather, what we curse we bless The rich woman now stands for the mother And the only son who died is the father I can't continue with this                            Then Gregory Peck Sat in the front seat of the car and kissed his girlfriend, She was only ten or eleven years old, he reminds me of you, We were at another party and he was on the phone to Hollywood, Who are the sons of Solomon?                              I denigrated the wine As being too sweet, then the maid pointed out Each bottle still had a price label,                                      $26.75 How prodigal all these rich people are like the trees I tried to find a way to get free of the indulgent rigidity Which made me resent good wine in a dream                                           I poured some more But the room was so crowded the glass overflowed                                                  Then we went to sleep And I fell from my innocent bed almost in time To be caressed by a desirous Gregory Peck, you again, Who used to be my mother's favorite actor, "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" (Continues...) Copyright © 1982 Bernadette Mayer. All rights reserved.