Richard Michael Levine









Fetal Dreams


Perhaps their dreams are blurred abstractions

A Pollock-like web of angry actions

Turning, in deeper sleep, to a Rothkovian raft

Of somber yellow to float on until they’re

Rescued by the riverbank.


Soon their dreams become semi-abstractions

Like Miro’s flying kites and paddling

Paramecia, each with a few stray

Hairs, an eye (never two) and something

That will soon become, I suppose, a nose.


Or maybe Freud was only half wrong

And infants long to be roped

Inside their mothers’ wombs

(Fathers being too irrelevant to kill)

Dressed in see-through silken robes


Rocking in a snug and food-filled world

Of water exactly as salty as the tears

They shed after dreaming of the tadpoles,

Newts and toads they once were.

Who knows why they cry.


Babies may have nightmares, too,

Including this recurrent one: It’s a warm

And endless night, lapped by soothing

Sounds, when suddenly all hell

Breaks loose, an epic flood


Followed by world-ending seizures

And howls to rouse the sleeping dead,

A backwards plunge in a vise-like grip

Through a dark tunnel

Toward a blinding light.


Or could it be that at birth

Babies dream their whole futures

In images that flash before their unseeing eyes?

A red tricycle, say, before a trellised

Wall, or a chocolate cake with lights on top.


Doing the cha-cha with grandma, perhaps,

Or a black cap flying toward a blue sky

A white bouquet caught mid-air

A lock of hair in a velour box

A car, a boat, a colonnaded house


A chaise longue on a lazy lawn

A tiny casket lowered into earth

Or a snowy scene inside a globe of glass

An ancient swaybacked collie on a couch

A face glimpsed once and never lost.


Only the last one seems familiar:

A hairless, shriveled being tethered

To food and water is seen dreaming

The same dream in reverse.

The baby screams on waking to a life.


First published in Ambush Review 2012





At two he likes to crawl

Under people’s sweaters

And stare out at the woven room

Womb-warm in muffled expectancy

Between dreaming and being awake

Disappearing and being seen

Wiggling his legs to draw you

To his secret place saying

“Peek-a-boo, I see you”

While he giggles and giggles.


I too like to sit

In cafes in mid-winter

Where the warmth of gathered bodies

Mists the windows over

And people talk to one another

Or stare at their phones

Luring them to ring-a-ding

So they can shout “I’m here, I’m here”

As I peek at them while reading

Needing to be found out.
















Before turning to fiction and poetry, Richard Michael Levine was a magazine writer and editor for many years, publishing feature articles in Harper’s, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, New York, Rolling Stone and many others. He also taught magazine journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His non-fiction book Bad Blood: A Family Murder in Marin County, published by Random House and NAL, was a bestseller. He has published poetry in several literary magazines and is now seeking a publisher for his short story collection, The Man Who Gave Away His Organs.

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