Losers Dream On

Losers Dream On

by Mark Halliday

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We are all losing all the time. Four titanic forces—time, mortality, forgetting, and confusion—win victories over us each day. We all “know” this yet we keep dreaming of beautiful fulfillments, shapely culminations, devotions nobly sustained—in family life, in romance, in work, in citizenship. What obsesses Halliday in Losers Dream On is how to recognize reality without relinquishing the pleasure and creativity and courage of our dreaming.
            Halliday’s poetry exploits the vast array of dictions, idioms, rhetorical maneuvers, and tones available to real-life speakers (including speakers talking to themselves). Often Halliday gives a poem to a speaker who is distressed, angry, confused, defensive, self-excusing, or driven by yearning, so that the poem may dramatize the speaker’s state of mind while also implying the poet’s ironic perspective on the speaker. Meanwhile, a few other poems (for instance “A Gender Theory” and “Thin White Shirts” and “First Wife” and “You Lament”) try to push beyond irony into earnestness and wholehearted declaration.  The tension between irony and belief is the engine of Halliday’s poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226533629
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Series: Phoenix Poets
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 80
File size: 368 KB

About the Author

Mark Halliday has taught in the creative writing program at Ohio University since 1996. His six previous books of poems include Jab and Thresherphobe, both published by the University of Chicago Press. 

Read an Excerpt



Back and back over the meadows and through the groves and back and beyond the broken speckle-gray boulders there is a shady road that curves downward into a glen.
If I tell you that a typed copy of "Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu"
Allusion is an admission of insufficient present power;
Nick my baby blond boy crawled to the doorway and pulled himself up by gripping the doorframe and demanded to be part of the conversation in the kitchen.
Back and back — till the glen is near —
Allusion is an admission that the painful recognitions of loss have been lived through before. It means we have old comrades in the never-completed negotiation.

When I jotted this in a notebook Nick was in college pondering what can be represented; he became an artist fascinated by layers and time's erosions.

Someone could paint a shady dusty road making you feel how the glen with its divertimenti of thrush and wren is leaving already even as you step down farther into its shade.
That small yellow kitchen; Nick, my golden boy,
Bus Full of Dinosaurs

We loved to turn the page and see the bus full of dinosaurs and say, "This is not the bus to the park!
Because its inviting of sympathy is coercive
How many more such nice memories can bubble into consciousness before the sublimity factory ceases production?

The three-year-old boy on his dad's shoulders at the airport would be thrilled to see a plane take off —
a few times they do see a plane rush along the runway in a purity of certainty and confidence until it goes beyond their angle of vision —
Anyway the boy forgives his dad for being slow —
that does not turn out to be delusory or hollow which is why he will need to remember all this twenty-three years later in an airport with his rollerbag and secret doubt and nothing on his shoulders.

First Wife

Each of us carries secret scars in spirit always ready to be wakened into wounds, ready as if waiting as if to be wakened into wounds is a debt forever unpaid;
as when I hear "Save the Last Dance for Me"
Ernest and Lionel

On this cardboard coffee cup from Ernest Klein Market there is a design with little gold stars bedecking a dark blue ribbon.
to live and live and live — despite whatever stupidities and humiliations — and my father still wants this too even if diminishingly. He has us listen to Lionel Hampton playing
Hal Dead

There far amid the towers of Gotham sits old Hal upon the blue couch slumped, unseeing the Times.
and to speak with the neighbors and the superintendent and to carry the cat by cab to its final place for there are duties and decisions to be made in the silent apartment amid the towers

The clouds bloom darkly silent over the city The traffic honks and jerks forward without meaning Huge plastic bags of day-old loaves lie in the gutter outside Au Bon Pain on 55th

and so the sons must come and speak with the disposers for Hal is dead. For Hal is dead and so through the ways of Gotham past Godondra unto the third-floor haunted cave they come

as Odin mounts his horse Sleipner and rides away to Lidskialf and sits there invisible upon his throne and Skulda and Hoder and Frea do their cloudy tasks along the cobbled avenues of shadowed Asgard

The LPs and CDs go into boxes, Maria Muldaur and all the torch singers and all the big band jazz and swing and the books on Jefferson and Madison and liberty go into boxes, into heavy boxes taped and double-taped

the boxes heavy and yet the loads feel stupidly light on the curving stairs down and down to the waiting cars for things cannot be left untouched in the haunted cave when Odin has galloped away into the secret clouds.

O'er the bridge Bifrost, where Heimdall watches and through the glen where Fensaler stands and past the house of Frea and past Ernest Klein Grocery and through the wood of Jarnvid where the trees are iron

ride the sons of Hal with helplessly creaking boxes past Muspel's fires and Midgard fort and stony Godondra towers and past the harbor where Regner's ship floats on dark current where Liberty raises her torch forever

for Madison and Jefferson and ever for Hal who had strong shoulders and strong views and believed that we are all impassioned clay and in long Gotham evenings spoke gently to his cat Cleo

but lastly rode alone alone alone unto the plain of Niflheim where dwell the dead, and thence to the darkest lake unseen by Heimdall or by Frea and by his sons unseen,
Yet even in the abode of death, O Hal, hail!
and the couples chuckle after Broadway shows and Kim and Mark must also laugh a little, they must while Odin mounted on Sleipner gallops away past Chrysler tower and down and down through stony Asgard

away unto his secret silent fate as nights do pass and days must pass which is all the nights and days can do —
the boar Serimner's blooded flesh for all the living,
Oh sons of Hal why tarriest thou in the gulph of inner gloom?
so seek therefore the golden dice with which you play'd of yore;

Quite adroitly for so many years he has avoided being an old man

yet now he is somehow a very old man and he gets sudden chills when everyone else feels the temperature is pleasant.
the shivering came over him, he tried furiously to conceal it rigidly tensing his skinny old muscles but then when the others lingered outside to chat with a neighbor he panicked and began to moan and gasp in outrage knowing how exactly this made him like a baby.
staring at the floor, staring into the heart of injustice,
He Meant

He meant not to vanish.
* * *

He worked on his line breaks as a means toward immortality

* * *

Rain down on the dogs of time.
* * *

Damn long time ago that he and his friend Eric tried to co-author a thing that started "In the confusion we crossed the street" — more than forty years ago and their big feeling was bafflement and now his big feeling is still bafflement with some wrinkles.
* * *

Dozens of smart sharp rhythmic women are moving through the Detroit airport what to do oh god

* * *

Maggie P. is gone.
* * *

He stared into space at odd moments and became briefly less trivial; with what useful result?

* * *

Passed bumbling through this world.
* * *

There is some basic firm evidence of identity:
* * *

He meant and the years scrummed and bashed and swooshed and he sent some pretty clever emails remarking on this

* * *

When he shifted his load on Hope Street the book that tumbled out of his bag of laundry was
* * *

Like a ping-pong ball with a PhD these fragments have I yah yah yah

* * *

He meant to try to learn to show energetic compassion for other humans — insofar as it is learnable

* * *

That earthquake in Haiti happened in January 2010 killing
* * *

By the time I was in that hospital cafeteria in 1974
Index to Hamaday: A Questionable Life

Addicted to salted cashews, 64
Thirteen Balloons

Jill's dad turns eighty-seven today.
66 Benevolent street

Calliope fly with me now to 66 Benevolent Street where on the sloping blue floor of the past Arlo Guthrie sings "My Creole Belle" over and over and young Mark frowns at the dreariness of Saul Bellow as Jessica mutters conjugations of Spanish verbs.

Calliope lend me thy silver harp to play the scene where Paul Hertz answers the phone by saying "Telephone"
O Calliope protect and enshrine this tiny chalice as if not infinitesimal, this cup of dreamt memory in which the bumpy blue floor is thrillingly chilly under bare feet rushing toward the narrow bed

and in the dining room one night either Joel or Jim hides a plastic pistol under Mark's spaghetti as if he were a prisoner as if youth were not a glorious haven and on the bathroom wall is taped a long passage from "Comus"
at 66 Benevolent Street where Jessica requires young Mark to sprinkle foot powder in his egregious sneakers O Calliope do not omit the notion of Poetry burbling there, Poetry whereby the detritus becomes constellated forever burbling there at 66 Benevolent where one day Mark wrote

"Monday's Cello" having caught on to the mentholated style that seemed to promise Fame ah this was silly but supremely forgiven by thee, kind Calliope,
About Time

About time I will in 2023 say things inadequate under a compulsion to face my enemy,

Excerpted from "Losers Dream On"
by .
Copyright © 2018 The University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Bus Full of Dinosaurs
First Wife
Ernest and Lionel
Hal Dead
He Meant
Index to Hamaday: A Questionable Life
Thirteen Balloons
66 Benevolent Street
About Time
Yearbook Photo
Your New Assignment
Maria’s Mexican Food
Thin White Shirts
Milano Adesso
Bird’s Shadow
Balancing Act
Tossed Cup
Not Exactly for Talia
Freedom of Speech
Shark Fate
Almost Dusk
After the Major Events
Angel at Wilkes
Their First Marriage
Sarah Sees Two Runners
A Gender Theory
The Quilmias
Your Paltry Conquests
Been There
Our Love Problem
Midnight, the Stars, and You
You Lament
Not Nothing
Whisk Broom
Rolf Smedvig in Particular
But Also
My Other Apartment
Plot Twist
No Vacation for Maigret

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