The Evolution of Nightmare

Corrie Williamson Click to

williamson-pic-1Corrie Williamson is the author of Sweet Husk, which won the 2014 Perugia Press Prize and was a finalist for the Library of Virginia Poetry Award. She is currently at work on a manuscript of poems that travel between modern day Montana, where she lives, and early 19th century Fincastle, Virginia and St. Louis, Missouri, where they trace the voice and history of Julia Hancock Clark, the woman who married explorer William Clark and followed him west. Poems from this manuscript have recently appeared in AGNI, 32 Poems, Terrain.Org, Southern Humanities Review, Quarterly West, and other journals.

. . . with her hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament . . .
Heaven swallowed the smoke.
Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney

In the dream, the linguist
with flaming scalp explains
how the language we speak
and all its sisters
trace back to their mother
tongue through a common word

for honey –  our lexicon lapping
at an old, ambrosial root.
Yes, I say, but what was Grendel’s
skin like? We know him
through that one word: gæst,
but if he bristled with fur

pearled with moor-frost or yearly
sloughed a scaled hide,
time does not reveal. Now
the old poet in whiskey tones
takes the chalk and tells
how the dead wear our clothes

and slip through
the sod. So perhaps he wore
the earth like a coat?
The most ancient known
word for man means
of the earth. Adam meant red.

Now it is my mother speaking,
only she stands at the kitchen
window washing glasses,
the Revere Ware
a glinting sky of copper
moons, near the Revelation

that hung there always: Behold,
I stand at the door and knock . . .
I ask her, But what about
the monsters? Her reply
is in no language but she sings
a high, clear note that swims

like mercury minnows
in my blood. I take a dishtowel,
whisper into her hair,
Mama, how to tell the guest
from the ghost
wearing the same sweet husk.