Christine Miscione on John Berryman: The Dream Songs


Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her

or falling at her little feet and crying
‘You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry’s dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.’ I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni. –Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.

–Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast . . . The slob beside herfeasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
–Mr. Bones: there is.


At the forefront of the 4th Dream Song:
1) The juxtaposition of spumoni and chicken paprika.
2) The incitation of love-at-first-feasting-of-eyes.
3) That ordinary delusion which eliminates one’s own flaws and assumes only external, uncontrollable factors as the cleavage between self and that “compact & delicious body” self hungers after.

The Berryman-blending of all such elements emerges thus: the elusive narrator, Henry, metaphorically described as spumoni, intersecting with an impossible love interest, unnamed, who embodies chicken paprika. Both foods are inherently at odds with each other, being of different states, solid and semi-solid, of different textures and flavours, and associated with opposing courses. Indeed, whereas Henry is a hybrid dessert – a variety of colours, subtle flavours, cold to the touch – his love interest is hot, “the hottest one for years of night”, made of seasoned flesh, flashing with a red brilliance his tri-colour cream has never seen.

As many are wont to do, Henry blames his impotence on external circumstances, such as “the fact of her husband” – that slob who is allowed to feast – and those “four other people” also partaking in the gorge. After all, his love interest isn’t part of a buffet, not on a platter continually replenished when depleted. She is but a single slab of chicken paprika, and with a ratio of 5:1 there’s only so much of her to go around.

While this may seem like a reasonable deterrent for our Henry, is it only “the fact of her husband & four other people” that keeps him from springing on her—or is it that Henry, as spumoni, is inherently immobile, his person like one large salivary gland dripping at room temperature? Which then raises the question: In the rare event that the two could somehow meet, what on earth does Henry expect would happen anyway? There is no promise of romance here, nothing reciprocally hot and steamy frothing-over across restaurant buzz. In fact, through the dissimilarity of their food-states, Henry’s absolute incompatibility – and his love interest’s unattainableness – is thrust forcibly to the forefront. Case in point: One cannot have chicken spumoni or spumoni paprika; both exist only as separate entities. Henry couldn’t possibly be with her because she is too “hot” for his semi-solid: her paprika would melt him, her chicken would overwhelm his iced cream.

Dejected and defeated, Henry says of his love interest, “She might as well be on Mars.” For what else could a lovelorn Henry imagine but our deeply mysterious paprika’d neighbour, the unattainable red planet one braves death to visit? And though he vies for the affection of this cosmic foodstuff, he refuses to make contact, questioning self-pityingly, “Where did it all go wrong?” Indeed, where did chicken deviate from spumoni? Where did taste buds stray, refusing paprika-infused ice cream? When did the micro-flora in the human gut require chicken to be so thoroughly heated before consumption that its mere presence across a buzzing restaurant is enough to melt spumoni, causing spumoni to “despair” its own spumoniness?

All this pity and outward finger pointing, when compounded, might be suggestive of Henry’s character. Him, a cowardly gastronaut unable to endure the hottest orbit his creamed flesh has ever felt, even for love. Him, a knight of shining-ice-cream-mush pooled in a crater on the dark side of the moon, the moon with no atmosphere causing Henry to freeze, chicken-hearted, keeping Henry stationary in his crater cup where he yearns each millisecond of his gutless life for a brief glimpse of Mars, such that all those years of night his “dazed eyes [may] enjoy, Brilliance.”

Perhaps if some kind of outfit were invented that allowed Henry to survive the elements (think elaborate spumoni-suit enabling its contents to stay hard in temperatures above zero degrees) Henry would boldly risk intergalactic restaurant travel, enter into the orbit of his affection and pluck her for his. And if not this, perhaps an Urkel-Urquelle transformation-chamber would be a viable solution, a machine in which Henry could undergo culinary metamorphosis, becoming either creamed corn or scalloped potatoes or a side of asparagus, anything more solid, less prone to melt—any reasonable food to marry with chicken paprika during the main course of a meal.

But, alas, there seems to be no hope for Henry. No auxiliary wrapper for protection. No immaculate rebirth. For naked he emerged from the ice cream container’s womb, and naked he’ll remain. Vulnerable. A gastrosity. Believing, self-deprecatingly, “there ought to be a law against Henry.”


Christine Miscione

Christine Miscione is a fiction writer living between Hamilton and Montreal. Her debut short story collection, Auxiliary Skins, was released in autumn 2013. Her first novel will be published through Mansfield Press this fall. You can find her at