Midwinter Day

Overview

Perhaps Bernadette Mayer's greatest work, Midwinter Day was written on December 22, 1978, at 100 Main Street, Lenox, Massachusetts.
"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 ...

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Overview

Perhaps Bernadette Mayer's greatest work, Midwinter Day was written on December 22, 1978, at 100 Main Street, Lenox, Massachusetts.
"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!"

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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)
Library Journal
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. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A new edition of Mayer•s six-part poem (originally published in Berkeley in 1982), describing the passage of a single day•December 22, 1978•in Lenox, Massachusetts. Mannered without formalism, Mayer manages to be at once colloquial and introspective, and her depiction of a single day•s passage has a relaxed intimacy that never falls into the abyss of self-absorption. Divided into six parts (each with a distinctive voice), the poem starts out wrapped in a hangover of dreams from the preceding night (•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•) and proceeds through the ordinary routines of dressing, cooking, eating, shopping, and visiting neighbors. Although much of the work is written in a kind of flat literalism (•I need to go to the health food store / To get a bottle of milk and a piece of Laughing Grasshopper tofu•) typical of the New York School (for many years Mayer directed St. Mark•s Poetry Project in the East Village), more of it is interior (•Every morning I think / I•ve become the new weather / Like embroidering something after, trying to remember / The half-lies of dreams•) or analogous (•I have an image of a beautiful man or woman who walks in the door like Christ and earnestly spends some time with us like the UPS man does•) than objective. Precious and somewhat rarefied, Mayer•s narrative is moving in its simple intensity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811214063
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Series: Paperbook Ser.
  • Pages: 119
  • Sales rank: 672,659
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Read an Excerpt



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 returnto
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...)

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