First Place – 2022 James H. Nash Contest
“This poem seems to hold the whole luminous and precarious world inside it. With its muscular pacing and elegant sense of line, ‘A Dream of My Father and of Me’ takes the difficult landscape of dream and uses it to illuminate the intimate relationship between aging parent and child. How do we look at our parents’ frailty and mortality with compassion and care while also acknowledging our own fear, frustration, and grief? Perhaps dream is the place for that. I learned a lot from living in this surprising poem.”Gabrielle Calvocoressi, 2022 Nash Contest Judge
A Dream of My Father and of Me
by JASON SOMMER
the dream is the theater where the dreamer is at once: scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic
If every person in the dream is me,
if I am every person in the dream,
I am my father also as we walk,
flaneurs together, on the London streets
where he is as he is when we’re awake;
a little frail but strolling well at ninety-
seven, he slows to study shop windows.
The item that he must replace he lost
in travel is a right-hand woolen glove.
I am alongside urgently enough
in searching. If I’m he, I have to feel
for him the way I should at last and love
him now exactly as I do myself.
We must have briefly been apart because
I find him downstairs in a dim café
addressing those I can’t make out at all,
which might be me forgetting everyone.
He says in their direction: Torremolinos
is where my son attends his science school.
I turn to flee embarrassed at the error
or lie but go to him instead to lead
him up and out. Taking his thin arm
in mine I guide him past and through the crowds
of shadow faces till a distinct quartet
of boisterous young women come toward us
chattering as they eye him, they appear
to know for certain something of him just
on sight and soon because he is so old,
which angers me awake to where I am
lying half over on my own crossed arms,
sensing the link, still bone on bone, his arm
on mine, my arm beneath my father’s arm.
JASON SOMMER is author of five poetry collections, most recently, in 2021, Portulans, his third in the University of Chicago Press’s Phoenix Poets Series. A former Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, he has won a Whiting Writer’s Award and held fellowships at the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writer’s Conferences. This year saw the publication of a memoir titled Shmuel’s Bridge: Following the Tracks to Auschwitz with My Survivor Father, of which Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, says “this stunning tribute is not to be missed.”