A Dream

I had a dream once of dancing with a tiger. As it took
my arm off, I heard a dancing master
Who came by on a bus with his dancing class on an outing
say to the class:
“Note and avoid this dancer’s waste of motion — more
violence than observance.”
And as I died and woke, I heard him add: “Dancing, my dears,
is a selection of measures.”
Once at St. Joseph’s, asked by Father Ryan something I have
forgotten, I answered, burning,
Something I meant for love. He grabbed my hair and hauled
me to the Virgin.
“Pray for your soul!" But I stamped my foot on his instep
and ran damned
My first long race from God, to hide by the river till I dared
go home and be strapped.
I was what had been done to me. There in the grass
I lay outside my action.
Whose was the act? Whose will, not mine, was in it?
How was it chosen
That the thing done had been given me to do? I envied the birds
the eyes they could eat from my head
For a little waiting. I lay already dead in God’s eye
upon me.
You think perhaps it’s a child’s tale, that nose of
All boys are born of the guilt that sprouts from them
in a wrong world
Where Virgins and Good Fairies accept prayers, tears,
and apologies
From the blockhead who becomes a man at last by the act
of cutting his nose off.
There in the river reeds, outside of God and the happening
act, I learned
My tiger to dream to. When I laid my face in the river
to cool my tears
A rat swam under my eyes, no further away than this paper.
And came swimming
Into a thousand dreams I screamed from. Rat? Tiger? I
forget now which was which.
But that dancing master — why had my face been put
between his wig and ruffles?
Which of my acts was done to me so in secret that I
wake here
At forty in a white shirt and a striped coat of manners
and bow and bow
Teaching the children songs and kisses and curtsies
to one side of all tigers in my arms?