Death Dream With Violets, Dale Champlin

Michael Diehl, Starry Night


Death Dream With Violets


From my dark plinth I watch
scant blooms nod on branches etched
against Maxfield Parrish blue night.
This was how I always saw my end,
perched on an outcropping between myth

and reality. A moment of relative peace—
cicadas break the silence, I study the shape
of my hands, moonlit, and dream of my
impending motherhood. Offshore, seabirds
suspend in an updraft, wings outstretched.

Tear-shaped raindrops. A gravel path
curves down to the breakers. Fluttering
petticoats, beach towels, togas and vestments
snap on a clothesline. A muffled thwack—
a wave smacks a sea stack.

I am pregnant against my will, in need
of a husband, preferably unpetrified.
My lavender toga ruffles against my greenish
thighs. Iridescent starlight glitters.
My snakes don’t stir. I pick a fistful of violets

And recognize Athena’s pride,
her shield, floating just out of reach.
You must be Perseus, I address thin air—
I may as well be talking to myself—
pebbles shift beneath his invisible feet.

Behind his heels, a faint flutter of wings
disturbs my vision. Should I tell him
to go away?


 Welcome, I say—

Dale Champlin


Review by Sue Fagalde Lick

“Death Dream with Violets” captures a moment of relative peace in Medusa’s tumultuous life. Time stands still. She studies her hands, picks violets, and listens to the fluttering petticoats and smacking waves. Time stops, even as Perseus is coming to kill her. Lush details—cicadas, sea birds, the snakes that don’t stir—create a feeling of holding one’s breath, even as we know from the glimpse of Athena’s shield and the shifting pebbles that death is on its way. Champlin does a masterful job of taking the reader deep into the dream.


Review by Peter Gordon

What impresses me most about this poem is how Dale modernizes images from classical mythology by relating them to issues that face modern women. The themes resonate not just in this poem but in all of her poems in this edition of the review. Ending on a question gives the reader the space to reflect on that question and the work as a whole. And it’s wonderful to see the word “plinth” used properly.
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