I Had a Dream About You

Selected by Nobel Prize laureate and competition judge Louise Glück as the 2004 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, Richard Siken’s Crush is a powerful collection of poems driven by obsession and love.

“An explosive, frantic splash of language and imagery that depicts both tremendous tenderness and vivid violence between male lovers. Richard Siken writes a pulsing, rambling, surrealistic, and cinematic verse. . . . While the language and energy and pure sensational vision of this poetry might seep into your soul like the whiskey so often invoked in these pages, you will taste the salt of blood on your tongue after you finish reading Crush—and you will never look at love and the comfort it promises the same way again.”—Maureen Picard Robins, Rain Taxi

We celebrate Pride Month 2023 with a selection of excerpts, featuring titles about gay icons and artists, legal debates and triumphs, cultural and literary criticism, works by LGBTQ+ authors, and more.

Richard Siken—

I Had a Dream About You

All the cows were falling out of the sky and landing in the mud.

You were drinking sangria and I was throwing oranges at you,

but it didn’t matter.

I said my arms are very long and your head’s on fire.

I said kiss me here and here and here

and you did.

Then you wanted pasta,

so we trampled out into the tomatoes and rolled around to make the sauce.

You were very beautiful.

We were in the Safeway parking lot. I couldn’t find my cigarettes.

You said Hurry up! but I was worried there would be a holdup

and we would be stuck in a hostage situation, hiding behind

the frozen meats, with nothing to smoke for hours.

You said Don’t be silly,

so I followed you into the store.

We were thumping the melons when I heard somebody say Nobody move!

I leaned over and whispered in your ear I told you so.


There was a show on the television about buried treasure.

You were trying to convince me that we should buy shovels

and go out into the yard

and I was trying to convince you that I was a vampire.

On the way to the hardware store I kept biting your arm

and you said if I really was a vampire I would be biting your neck,

        so I started biting your neck

and you said Cut it out!

and you bought me an ice cream, and then we saw the UFO.


These are the dreams we should be having. I shouldn’t have to

clean them up like this.


You were lying in the middle of the empty highway.

The sky was red and the sand was red and you were wearing a brown coat.

There were flecks of foam in the corners of your mouth.

The birds were watching you.

Your eyes were closed and you were listening to the road and I could

hear you breathing, I could hear your heart beating.

I carried you to the car and drove you home but you

weren’t making any sense.

I took a shower and tried to catch my breath.

You were lying on top of the bedspread

in boxer shorts, watching cartoons and laughing but not making any sound.

Your skin looked blue in the television light.

Your teeth looked yellow.

Still wet, I lay down next to you. Your arms, your legs, your naked chest,

your ribs delineated like a junkyard dog’s.

        There’s nowhere to go, I thought. There’s nowhere to go.


You were sitting in a bathtub at the hospital and you were crying.

You said it hurt.

I mean the buildings that were not the hospital.

I shouldn’t have mentioned the hospital.

I don’t think I can take this much longer.


In the dream I don’t tell anyone, you put your head in my lap.

Let’s say you’re driving down the road with your eyes closed

but my eyes are also closed.

You’re by the side of the road.

You’re by the side of the road and you’re doing all the talking

while I stare at my shoes.

They’re nice shoes, brown and comfortable, and I like your voice.

In the dream I don’t tell anyone, I’m afraid to wake you up.


In these dreams it’s always you:

the boy in the sweatshirt,

the boy on the bridge, the boy who always keeps me

from jumping off the bridge.

Oh, the things we invent when we are scared

and want to be rescued.

Your jeep. Your teeth. The coffee that you bought me.

The sandwich cut in half on the plate.

I woke up and ate ice cream in the dark,

hunched over on the wooden chair in the kitchen,

listening to the rain.

I borrowed your shoes and didn’t put them away.


You were crying and eating rice.

The surface of the water was still and bright.

Your feet were burning so I put my hands on them, but my hands

were burning too.

You had a bottle of pills but I wouldn’t let you swallow them.

You said Will you love me even more when I’m dead?

and I said No, and I threw the pills on the sand.

Look at them, you said. They look like emeralds.


I put you in a cage with the ocelots. I was trying to fatten you up

with sausages and bacon.

Somehow you escaped and climbed up the branches of a pear tree.

I chopped it down but there was nobody in it.

I went to the riverbed to wait for you to show up.

You didn’t show up.

I kept waiting.


Snow and Dirty Rain

Close your eyes. A lover is standing too close

to focus on. Leave me blurry and fall toward me

with your entire body. Lie under the covers, pretending

to sleep, while I’m in the other room. Imagine

my legs crossed, my hair combed, the shine of my boots

in the slatted light. I’m thinking My plant, his chair,

the ashtray that we bought together. I’m thinking This is where

we live. When we were little we made houses out of

cardboard boxes. We can do anything. It’s not because

our hearts are large, they’re not, it’s what we

struggle with. The attempt to say Come over. Bring

your friends. It’s a potluck, I’m making pork chops, I’m making

those long noodles you love so much. My dragonfly,

my black-eyed fire, the knives in the kitchen are singing

for blood, but we are the crossroads, my little outlaw,

and this is the map of my heart, the landscape

after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is

a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me

tight, it’s getting cold. We have not touched the stars,

nor are we forgiven, which brings us back

to the hero’s shoulders and a gentleness that comes,

not from the absence of violence, but despite

the abundance of it. The lawn drowned, the sky on fire,

the gold light falling backward through the glass

of every room. I’ll give you my heart to make a place

for it to happen, evidence of a love that transcends hunger.

Is that too much to expect? That I would name the stars

for you? That I would take you there? The splash

of my tongue melting you like a sugar cube? We’ve read

the back of the book, we know what’s going to happen.

The fields burned, the land destroyed, the lovers left

broken in the brown dirt. And then it’s gone.

Makes you sad. All your friends are gone. Goodbye

Goodbye. No more tears. I would like to meet you all

in Heaven. But there’s a litany of dreams that happens

somewhere in the middle. Moonlight spilling

on the bathroom floor. A page of the book where we

transcend the story of our lives, past the taco stands

and record stores. Moonlight making crosses

on your body, and me putting my mouth on every one.

We have been very brave, we have wanted to know

the worst, wanted the curtain to be lifted from our eyes.

This dream going on with all of us in it. Penciling in

the bighearted slob. Penciling in his outstretched arms.

Our Father who art in Heaven. Our Father who art buried

in the yard. Someone is digging your grave right now.

Someone is drawing a bath to wash you clean, he said,

so think of the wind, so happy, so warm. It’s a fairy tale,

the story underneath the story, sliding down the polished

halls, lightning here and gone. We make these

ridiculous idols so we can pray to what’s behind them,

but what happens after we get up the ladder?

Do we simply stare at what is horrible and forgive it?

Here is the river, and here is the box, and here are

the monsters we put in the box to test our strength

against. Here is the cake, and here is the fork, and here’s

the desire to put it inside us, and then the question

behind every question: What happens next?

The way you slam your body into mine reminds me

I’m alive, but monsters are always hungry, darling,

and they’re only a few steps behind you, finding

the flaw, the poor weld, the place where we weren’t

stitched up quite right, the place they could almost

slip right through if the skin wasn’t trying to

keep them out, to keep them here, on the other side

of the theater where the curtain keeps rising.

I crawled out the window and ran into the woods.

I had to make up all the words myself. The way

they taste, the way they sound in the air. I passed

through the narrow gate, stumbled in, stumbled

around for a while, and stumbled back out. I made

this place for you. A place for you to love me.

If this isn’t the kingdom then I don’t know what is.

So how would you catalog it? Dawn in the fields?

Snow and dirty rain? Light brought in in buckets?

I was trying to describe the kingdom, but the letters

kept smudging as I wrote them: the hunter’s heart,

the hunter’s mouth, the trees and the trees and the

space between the trees, swimming in gold. The words

frozen. The creatures frozen. The plum sauce

leaking out of the bag. Explaining will get us nowhere.

I was away, I don’t know where, lying on the floor,

pretending I was dead. I wanted to hurt you

but the victory is that I could not stomach it. We have

swallowed him up, they said. It’s beautiful, it really is.

I had a dream about you. We were in the gold room

where everyone finally gets what they want.

You said Tell me about your books, your visions made

of flesh and light and I said This is the Moon. This is

the Sun. Let me name the stars for you. Let me take you

there. The splash of my tongue melting you like a sugar

cube . . . We were in the gold room where everyone

finally gets what they want, so I said What do you

want, sweetheart? and you said Kiss me. Here I am

leaving you clues. I am singing now while Rome

burns. We are all just trying to be holy. My applejack,

my silent night, just mash your lips against me.

We are all going forward. None of us are going back.

From Crush by Richard Siken. Published by Yale University Press in 2005. Reproduced with permission.

Richard Siken is cofounder and editor of the literary magazine spork. He received two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, two Lannan Residency Fellowships, and a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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