I often dislike dream poems. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes they can be too easy: Ooh, here's some weird images! They don't have to make any sense; they're from a dream! Sometimes they're too personal, too encoded, meaningful only to the person who wrote the poem or dreamed the dream, or maybe to someone who knows that person well. Sometimes they're just too self-consciously symbolic, like a poem your high school English teacher would ask you to analyze, picking out every image to determine once and for all What It Really Means.
That said, I like this dream poem by Michael Collier. Looking at it again, what really makes the poem for me is the word vernix. It's such a completely unexpected word, such an unusual word to begin with and not one most of us use on a daily basis, and it seems to catapult the poem to a whole new level as soon as it shows up. Such a mammalian, human word, given to birds in a dream -- it's startling.
Interesting how much weight one word can carry in a poem.
Birds Appearing in a Dream
One had feathers like a blood-streaked koi,
another a tail of color-coded wires.
One was a blackbird stretching orchid wings,
another a flicker with a wounded head.
All flew like leaves fluttering to escape,
bright, circulating in burning air,
and all returned when the air cleared.
One was a kingfisher trapped in its bower,
deep in the ground, miles from water.
Everything is real and everything isn't.
Some had names and some didn't.
Named and nameless shapes of birds,
at night my hand can touch your feathers
and then I wipe the vernix from your wings,
you who have made bright things from shadows,
you who have crossed the distance to root in me.
from Dark Wild Realm (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)