Reflection on “Dream of Gina”

Dream of Gina
As dream releases dream obliquely, not you
but who, I don’t recall, told me your brother,
older, husband, father, swimming cold spring’s
rough jade waters off Nauset, drowned, sounding
in me, who never met him, your story:
Night, the knock, you roused, door opened, cracked light,
you, turning to ask, voice said, “Fool‒ Gina!”
muddled past hushed shoes, mastering covers
again fell wondering in final drop who
you were next limbs and all asleep found his
your arm fumbling fast. Morning waked duet,
waked puberty’s Lollobridgida lust,
older ribbing, you laughing, boys at war,
his usually winning ships attacked,
defending, your planes fly, a rival force
wanting victory then, sometimes, maybe
dreaming him sunk his hulk his hand, a thing
unimaginable, in smithereens.
-Ellin Sarot

My poem “Dream of Gina” started with a friend’s story about an unexpected late-night visit by his older brother. More than half asleep, he heard that his visitor was Gina Lollobrigida, a possibility the brothers as teenagers had dreamed of lustfully awake. Several years later, while my friend was abroad, his brother drowned swimming in the Atlantic off New England. My friend, I knew, deeply loved his brother and would be grief struck for life. As a younger sibling with an older brother, I understood the rivalry included in the love for his brother. When I learned of my friend’s brother’s death, the story of Gina Lollobrigida’s late-night apparition, of course, came back to me, and I began the poem. That was in 1961. I write slowly; it often takes a while until a poem feels done, though not usually this long.

Recently, two things permitted me to bring “Dream of Gina” to a final or near-final state: the time and space at the Writers’ Room and an event: One morning, as my brother, who has terminal cancer and now uses a walker, was in the basement garage of his apartment building, about to drive his wife and daughter to work, a neighbor suddenly backed out of her parking space, into him. As he lay on the cement ground and his wife and daughter went to him, they heard the neighbor say, “Oh my God! … Well, he was disabled anyway.” My brother was taken by ambulance to an ER, found not to have any broken bones but to have internal injuries, including internal bleeding from a source to be detected. He was admitted first to cardiac intensive care and incubated, then moved to intensive care, then a room, and now a rehab facility, though at this moment he is in the hospital again. During this, he has at times been close to death.

Last year I began reworking the “Dream of Gina,” but, frustrated, could not resolve its difficulties–mainly something unclear that I couldn’t find words for. Now I found the way through. But I did not put two and two together—that is, it did not occur to me for some time that the situation of a younger person’s loss of a loved older brother in the poem was very like what I was living now, though my brother, I am glad to say, is still alive.

My friend’s life and mine long ago took different directions and because we no longer live in the same area we never run into each other. I have never shown him the poem.

-Ellin Sarot, Gish Jen Fellow for Emerging Writers

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