Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003

Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003

by Jean Valentine

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Winner of the National Book Award in Poetry (2004)

Since the 1965 publication of her first book, Dream Barker, selected for the Yale Younger Poets Award, Jean Valentine has published eight collections of poetry to critical acclaim. Spare and intensely-felt, Valentine's poems present experience as only imperfectly graspable. This volume gathers together all of Valentine's published poems and includes a new collection, "Door in the Mountain."

Valentine's poetry is as recognizable as the slant truth of a dream. She is a brave, unshirking poet who speaks with fire on the great subjects—love, and death, and the soul. Her images—strange, canny visions of the unknown self—clang with the authenticity of real experience. This is an urgent art that wants to heal what it touches, a poetry that wants to tell, intimately, the whole life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819567130
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 01/02/2007
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 308
Sales rank: 979,082
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

JEAN VALENTINE won the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first book, Dream Barker, in 1965. Author of seven other books of poetry, including most recently Growing Darkness, Growing Light (1997) and The River at Wolf (1992), she has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Graduate Writing Program at NYU, and the 92nd Street Y. Valentine received the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America in 2000 and the 2006 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American of Letters to "a progressive, original, and experimental writer."

Read an Excerpt


New Poems


I saw my soul become flesh breaking open the linseed oil breaking over the paper running down pouring no one to catch it my life breaking open no one to contain it my pelvis thinning out into God

In our child house

In our child house our mother read to us:
  there the little English boy would love us under neath a tree:
  not kill us:
that was white space only like her childhood like her father her sorrow


Your hand on my knee I couldn't move The heat felt good I couldn't move

The shutmouth mother goes down the stairs and drinks warm whiskey

she always goes and drinks warm whiskey

down in the corner: Hand-

And everything on the hair of starting again.

The girl

spills the half-gallon of milk on the floor.
The milk is all over the floor, the table,
the chairs, the books, the dinner, the windows

— Mother and son are gone happy.
The father to work.
The sister to marriage.

The girl is still spilling the milk-house white negative shining out of one life into another life.


in your white dress your smoke your opaque eye you whose name my foot wrote

I had to die break the rope push through the stone fence

of you, of myself, and fly


Green bookbag full of poems I leaned with my bicycle at the black brick edge of the world

What was I, to be lost or found?

My soul in the corner stood watched

* * *

Girl and boy we had given each other we wanted breasts bellies hair toenails fingernails hair nipples foreskin foreskin heart

* * *

I gave up signing in to the night book little notes in time signing our names on the train's engine car gray 19th century Irish men in our gray stiff clothes

"She Sang"

Save the goat of humanity!
She started out shot through with love books

She chose closed hearts those she knew would not kill her

Save her memory her bones dig under the house dig near home

here at the X in the mouth of the house the shell shocked woman all her bones goat bones

A Bone Standing Up

A bone standing up she worked for words word by word up Mt. Fear till she got to her name: it was
"She Sang."

The Hawthorn Robin Mends with Thorns

Talking with Mary about 1972:
like a needle through my 25-years-
older breast my years thinner rib: 1972:

a child-life away from my children:

"but you couldn't have been different from the way you were"

but I would to have been different

Out in a sailboat

Out in a sailboat with the warden he says so-and-so weighs 95 lbs. now says she slept with him because he was kind when she was in prison

She woke up hypnotized

A wonderful boat

She woke up walking with the homeless on a plank no red schlock rope

I came to you

I came to you Lord, because of the fucking reticence
of this world no, not the world, not reticence, oh
  Lord Come
  Lord Come We were sad on the ground
  Lord Come We were sad on the ground.


The erotic brown fedora on the desk:
the erotic silver watch from your father's time balanced on its thin hinged silver lid on the Teacher's Desk:

Once or twice, someone comes along and you stand up in the air and the air rises up out of the air:

One leaf then branches stood up in the sun consuming
— Cousin, it was happiness on earth.

The Very Bad Horse

The very bad horse doesn't budge until the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.

— The Buddha

My first own home my big green "bed-sit"
in London, in 1956
double bed green spread sixpence coin-fed gas fire London fog huge little footsteps TOK TOK TOK

I knew three people and three more at work I knew you

I felt around in the dark for Life and you I picked myself up by the hair four stories up and dropped me

— Still I wouldn't budge.


Once there was a woodcutter,
when he asked me to marry him the woman in the grocery store said You look like you lost your last friend.
First love!
When we broke up it was as if the last egg in the house got dropped on the broken floor.
  This world is everywhere! the woman said,
  You won't go unsampled!

So many secrets

So many secrets held you in their glass

Fear like a green glass on the shelf

It hurt like glass It hurt like self

Eleventh Brother

one arm still a swan's wing The worst had happened before: love — before I knew it was mine —
turned into a wild swan and flew across the rough water

Outsider seedword until I die I will be open to you as an egg speechless red

Once in the nights

Once in the nights I raced through fast snow to drink life from a shoe

what I thought was wrong with me with you was not wrong
  now gates in the dark at thy name hinge

Under the gold

Under the gold and chalk and brick, beside the rowers on the river,

the black lines lived around my crayon bones.
One line. And then my heart shut down,

even so, inside the lines. I rode out of the sorrowfence blue

twine-tied gate into the river grass ...

The Windows

Funeral dream
"We'll put them all down in the great book of sleep."

"You may be dead but Don't stop loving me."

In memory
"Don't hold yourself cheap."

All the windows came to him in tears.

The chestnut tree by the North River. Its tears.

Dream A bricklayer. Your father.

Dream "If you shoot someone I will walk out on the ocean floor and throw the gun away."

Dream "When I am of doubt ..."
Dream "Go clear."

Go Clear

Go clear he said
  his high gray 19th c.
  postmortem jaw
  I loved it its high grayness

go clear no touch
  but words no more
  death fear

I swam out of the streaming ikon eyes
  who loved me: not-me: no more care
  I left the clothes
  standing there I swam

into swarming projectless air redemptionless from under the earth to over the earth air to not air

The Coin

While you were alive and thought well of me there was always a coin in my fish-mouth off in the night or the day lake. Now the little coin doesn't need itself ...

October morning

October morning —
sea lions barking on the off-shore rock

Autumn evening —
seals' heads nosing through the pink Pacific

I gather myself onto my day raft, your voice lost under me:
first other tongue

I heard my left hand

I heard my left hand love for my right hand white through the screen door

just as through the summer elm you two years ago in the bardo

moved into the room we once had feeling for.

In the evening

In the evening I saw them

their little open boats

carrying us across the blood water

their invisible company their invisible company

you beauty I never did not know

no time no place

you beauty little ferryman

We cut the new day

We cut the new day like a key:

We went ahead anyway drinking down the will of the event

On the eighth floor something fell alive inside the old street wall next to the bed

I heard it fall and fall

Occurrence of White

First thriving, then failing to thrive:
no never thriving,
from the beginning,
the ghost freighter out of Fall River,
ghost railroad car out of Chicago,
raked my skin and your skin in white silence.

How have I hurt you?

How have I hurt you?
  You saw me.

I dream I am you full of fear and dread with me in your arms
:my cloth love holding your breath How have I hurt you
  You saw me

I didn't see you

Do flies remember us

Do flies remember us We don't them we say "fly"


you gone through my hands me through your hands

our footprints feeling over us thirstily

You drew my head

You drew my head the back of my head my neck stem

you made my head a charcoal skull and even the skull is turned away

no eyes

The little, faintly blue clay eggs

The little, faintly blue clay eggs in the real grass nest you made and sent to me by hand:

  It runs through my thighs, even now,
that you thought of it!
for a little while we thought of nothing else.
Frozen little couple in caps,
frozen beaks —

Happiness (3)

The moment you turned to me on W 4th St.
Your gentleness to me

The hard winter grass here under my shoes The frost

I knelt in the frost to your parents
  The warm light on the right hand side of your face The light on the Buddha's eyelids

I knelt to my parents Their suffering How

much sleep there was in sleep How no suffering is lost


The hornet holds on to the curtain, winter sleep. Rubs her legs. Climbs the curtain.
Behind her the cedars sleep lightly,

like guests. But I am the guest.
The ghost cars climb the ghost highway. Even my hand over the page adds to the 'room tone': the little

constant wind. The effort of becoming. These words
are my life. The effort of loving the un-become. To make the suffering

visible. The un-become love: What we lost, a leaf, what we cherish, a leaf.
One leaf of grass. I'm sending you this seed-pod,

this red ribbon, my tongue,
these two red ribbons, my mouth, my other mouth,

— but the other world — blindly I guzzle the swimming milk of its seed field flower —

I could never let go

my husband my wound my sleep

but they were surrendered from me

my books them pleasing you/
disappointing you

the desire for men gazing feeding

the cursive characters
I my

in chalk across the white-lined blackboard

surrendered from me when I couldn't breathe so.

The Basket House

The basket house:
to shelter me inside the night cave the emptiness where the other one holds me

nurses me in the emptiness,

holds me the way paper made out of a tree holds a deer.

And he holds me near:
he pulls the cord out from me, in to him,
length over length.

The House and the World

All this anger heart beating

unless I'd come inside your blind window and stay there like you

But then the other world was going to be given:

the cello part carrying us the whole time like earth the scarred hip tipped groin the flying whitethorn hedge the cup

In your eyes

In your eyes there was a little pupil

a woman turned to a holy well

notes and snapshots pinned to her dress at her feet crutches eyeglasses

Woman, Leaving

You waited 4 Ever

  Don't listen for words here no more than the words the grass speaks or the mouth of the lake

  Then came an undone stitch of light You tore it open and flew

Trim my hoofs

Trim my hoofs!
I am thirsty for experience.

The glass man on the glass river says

If only I could get down it alone — But you are getting down it alone ...

Thirsty! I drink from my own well the red and blue fire around my head this minute vanishing I befriended with it

Two Poems for Matthew Shepard

But what about the blue dory — the soul

— Thief the sun Thief the rain

Into love the size of a silver dollar
[the soul] disappeared to a pencil point then nothing.
  Left his nails and his hair.

The Blue Dory, the Soul

— I left the blue dory there had been so much news

so many flashbulbs breaking up the dory

so many people following their names eating their third heavy car their third book

I left the blue dory on its hip on the fence left my soul not "mine"
"my" clothes off I left the edges of "my" face
"my" hands

The Rally

The rally is about a young black man His tongue has been cut by a razor the tops of his ears have been cut off

My clothes my bag my money my papers
  It's the young man

My palms my soles
  It's the young man
  your silent invisible body here at the door
  your glance

The Growing Christ of Tzintzuntzan

Come in at the narrow door, and then go back, but
  not yet —

Lie down,

head to my bandaged head, foot to growing foot,
I am so tired, too,
in my glass box.


With the winter and mud and shit roped into your wool,
Your black stick legs, blank eyes —
The farmer stumps home to his supper And you are beyond your own bells And my friend is in pain and there's nothing I can do,
Suffering is everywhere intense, and if We make our own pain ourselves, who can help it? Cold selves, Cold you,
unbearable clamor and rust —

To the Bardo

I dreamed I finally got through to C on the phone he was whispering I couldn't make out the words

he had been in the hospital and then in a home M was sick too

You know how in dreams you are everyone:
awake too you are everyone:
I am listening breathing your ashy breath

old Chinese poet:
to see the way

Rodney Dying (4)

A woman was picking up the plastic forks and napkins in a plastic box I was sitting on the grass floor leaning against your knees: Under the ground I sat down on the floor and embraced your knees.

Door in the Mountain

Never ran this hard through the valley never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me heavy on my chest

People are not wanting to let me in

Door in the mountain let me in

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly,
dip your hand in the wooden box of papers on my back and open me Take the hand inside the hand I'm struggling to leave:
Let my hand play!

My old body

My old body:
a ladder of sunlight, mercury dust floating through —

My forgivenesses,
how you have learned to love me in my sleep.

Inkwell daybreak

Inkwell daybreak stairway


Dear girls and boys,
would you go with me and tell me back to the beginning
— so we can understand!
the journey of our lives where we met with cruelty but kindness, too,
and nosed up out of the cold dark water,
and walked on our fins ...

The path between

The path between the two twelve-foot hedges between the fire and the window hot on the left side sharp on the right something wrong Born wrong cleaves to itself deflects you Still, someone wrote something here in the dirt and I sip at the word —

The Night Sea

The longing for touch was what they lived out of not mainly their bodies For that friend we walked inside of the night sea shedding our skins —

The Shirt

The shirt was going to be red:
he had to have this shirt — no other —
to stay alive, in prison.
We were setting about to cut, and sew,

but the cotton, they said, was sacred
— we had to fold it and give it back to them.
Then, even though you're so much lighter, and it was white,
you gave him yours ...

One Foot in the Dark

People forget Don't forget me
  You the only white head in the crowd of young men live oaks waiting to be let out of the Visiting Area.

A weed green

A weed green with a black shadow village under it and then browngray dirt then a browngray stick stuck on a stone which has its own black shoah moat to the north how hungrily life like an o
goes after life

Fears: Night Cabin

Snake tick black widow brown recluse

— The truck last night on 79
dragging a chain

— A cloud rounding slowly at the window

— The wick unlit curled cold in the kerosene lamp.

so wild

  so wild I didn't notice for a long time under your ten skins your skull
— When life for the fourth time touched my eyes with mud and spit and groaned
  — Then I saw your and my fingerbones outstretching in the thin blue planet water.

I have lived in your face

I have lived in your face.
Have I been you?
Your mother? giving you birth

— this pain whenever I say goodbye to thee

— up to now I always wanted it but not this


Excerpted from "Door in the Mountain"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Jean Valentine.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

In our child house
The girl
"She Sang"
A Bone Standing Up
The Hawthorn Robin Mends with Thorns
Out in a sailboat
I came to you
The Very Bad Horse
So many secrets
Eleventh Brother
Once in the nights
Under the gold
The Windows
Go Clear
The Coin
October morning
I heard my left hand
In the evening
We cut the new day
Occurrence of White
How have I hurt you?
Do flies remember us
You drew my head
The little faintly blue clay eggs
Happiness (3)
I could never let go
The Basket House
The House and the World
In your eyes
Woman Leaving
Trim my hoofs
Two Poems for Matthew Shepard
The Blue Dory the Soul
The Rally
The Growing Christ of Tzintzuntzan
To the Bardo
Rodney Dying (4)
Door in the Mountain
Monarch butterfly
My old body
Inkwell daybreak
The path between
The Night Sea
The Shirt
One Foot in the Dark
A weed green
Fears: Night Cabin so wild
I have lived in your face
A goldfinch in the rain
The grain of the wood
The push or fly
I would be
Do you remember?
Advent Calendar
We didn't know each other
Touch with your finger
Noon in the Line Outside
Your number is lifting off my hand
The Needle North
The Passing
In the Burning Air
Little house

First Love
For a Woman Dead at Thirty
Miles from Home
To Salter's Point
Lines in Dejection
Sleeps Drops Its Nets
Sunset at Wellfleet
Asleep over Lines from Willa Cather
Cambridge by Night
To a Friend
Sasha and the Poet
The Second Dream
A Bride's Hours
Sarah's Christening Day
Tired of London
Cabridge April 27 1957
New York April 27 1962
September 1963
For Teed
My Grandmother's Watch
The Beast with Two Backs
The Little Flower
Adam and Eve: Poem on Folded Paper
Dream Barker
To My Soul

PILGRIMS (1969)j
The Couples
In the Museum
By the Boat Pond
The Summer House
Her dream: the child
Orpheus and Eurydice
Thinking about Cain
Broken-down Girl
Bin Dream West College East D-11
Bin Dream #2 Interview with Stravinksy
Death House
Half an Hour
Visiting Day at School
The Child Jung
Coltrane Syeeda's Song Flute
Photograph of Delmore Schwartz
The Torn-down Building
Moon Man
The Child and the Terrorist The Terrorist and the Child

After Elegies
'Autumn Day'
He said
After Elegies (2)
3 A.M. in New York
Letter from a Country Room
A Child's Death
Three Voices One Night in the Community Kitchen
The Knife
Seeing L'Atalante
"Twenty Days' Journey" by Huub Oosterhuis and translated from the Dutch with Judith Herzberg
This Hate
This Minute
Couvre-Feu: after Paul Eluard
Susan's Photographs
Ouside the Frame
Forces (2): Song

Beka 14
Dufy Postcard
The Field
Living Together
Here Now
The Forgiveness Dream: Man from the Warsaw Ghetto
Prayer in Fever
Silences: A Dream of Governments
After Elegies (3)
The Messenger - Two Translations - Huub Oosterhuis: Orpheus
Osip Mandelstam: 394 - Solitudes - December 21st
What Happened
Turn (2): After Years
The Burden of Memory
February 9th
"Love and Work": Freud Dying
Letter from a Stranger
"Actuarial File"
Lines from a Story
March 21st

Willi Home
To Raphael angel of happy meeting
Primitive Painting: Liberation Day
Awake This Summer
The Drinker's Wife Writes Back
Birthday Letter from South Carolina
The Counselor Retires and Then He Dies
Snow Landscape in a Glass Glode
Everything Starts with a Letter
About Love
Little Song in Indian Summer
The King
High School Boyfriend
Tonight I Can Write...
Trust Me

Spring and Its Flowers
The Summer Was Not Long Enough
Still Life for Matisse
Still Life: in the Epidemic
The Year of the Snake
The One You Wanted to Be Is the One You Are
To a Young Poet
Alfred and the Abortion
Seeing You
The Free Abandonment Blues
The First Station
Night Lake
The Badlands Said
The Missouri Speaks
The River at Wolf
The Ring
Barrie's Dream the Wild Geese
Fox Glacier
Lindis Pass Borage
By the Tekapo River 100 Degrees
After Consciousness of This Big Form
Everyone Was Drunk
In Fear (1)
In Fear (2)
In This Egg
The Under Voice
Come Akhmatova
James Wright: in Memory
At Cullen's Island
The Wisdom Gravy
American River Sky Alcohol Father
The Morning of My Mother's Death
The Night of My Mother's Death
Second Mother
The Sea of Serenity
My Mother's Body My Professor My Bower
At My Mother's Grave
We Go Through Our Mother' sThings
Death Asphodel
To the Memory of David Kalstone
The First Angel
At the Door
Yield Everything Force Nothing
Alone Alive
Guardian Angel in New York
To Plath to Sexton
The Power Table

Sick Away from Home
New Life
The Tractors
River Jordan
Night Porch
Snow Family
To the Black Madonna of Chartres
Tell Me What Is the Soul
Secret Room Danger House
Red for Blood
Yellow for Gold
Green for the Land
Black for the People
Long Irish Summer Day
Dog Skin coat
Fellini in Purgatory
Elegy for Jane Kenyon
You Are Not One in a Sequence
Where Do you Look for Me?
Documentary: AIDS Support Group
Poem with Words by Thornton Dial
A Bit of Rice
The Night Wally's Service Wally said
Rodney Dying
Rodney Dying (2)
Father Lynch Returns from the Dead
Mother and Child Body and Soul
Soul (2)
The Mother Dreams
Soul (3)
Open Heart

The Pen
Elegy for Jane Kenyon (2)
Black Wolf
Mother Bones
They lead me
Your mouth "appeared to me"
Mare and Newborn Foal
October Premonition
Rodney Dying (3)
Running for a train
The Welsh poet
Radio: Poetry Reading NPR
The Tower Roof
For a Woman Dead at Thirty (2)
The Blind Stirring of Love
Little Map
The Drinker
The Drinker (2)
Happiness (2)
The I Ching
He leaves them:
Away from you
Her Lost Book
Index of Titles and First Lines

What People are Saying About This

Adrienne Rich

“This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn't approach in any other way... The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet... In all her work, most astonishingly in this new book, Jean Valentine offers us the danger and depth of the ordinary, and we shiver with recognition and relief.”

From the Publisher

"This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn't approach in any other way... The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet... In all her work, most astonishingly in this new book, Jean Valentine offers us the danger and depth of the ordinary, and we shiver with recognition and relief." —Adrienne Rich, about The River at Wolf

"I wholeheartedly endorse this book. ...It is acrobatically glorious, this collection, unparalleled in its commitment to balancing the unspoken with the spoken. To read it is fully pleasurable and easy and at the same time difficult, because each poem springs from the head of Wisdom."—Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe

“I wholeheartedly endorse this book. ...It is acrobatically glorious, this collection, unparalleled in its commitment to balancing the unspoken with the spoken. To read it is fully pleasurable and easy and at the same time difficult, because each poem springs from the head of Wisdom.”

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