From Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep

Michael Ruby

When I was a senior in college, I took a course devoted to the writings of Sigmund Freud, taught by Professor Philip Hoffman in the sinister William James Hall on Kirkland Street in Cambridge. During that semester, I wrote down my dreams for the first time. I also noticed for the first time that as I was falling asleep, I would briefly hear sentences spoken by different voices, a few of which I recognized, such as my own or my mother’s. Four years later, when I spent a week alone before Christmas on Benefit Street in Providence, writing experimental poetry for the first time, I learned how to hear the inner voices at will. Lying on the couch, with a view of the Narragansett Electric plant through the bare trees, I would clear my mind of all thoughts and listen for a very particular sound, the sound of sand being poured on sand. The inner voices would begin as soon as I heard that sound. I found that after two or three inner voices, I would invariably fall asleep. To transcribe them, I had to pull myself back from sleep continuously. Edgar Allan Poe, in “Marginalia,” describes a similar process with “visions” seen “only when I am upon the very brink of sleep.” These are the first inner voices I transcribed:

How hard for it to be done
Oh, I see
7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
It’s the way he’s doing that
…take Angela
There’s no room for a boundary—do you know?
You sound optimistic to me, David

After that winter, I transcribed inner voices roughly once a year for the next 15 years. Then, in 1999, I thought it might be worthwhile to transcribe a whole book of inner voices, taking more extensive dictation. I eventually came to view the book as forming the third part of a trilogy with Fleeting Memories and Dreams of the 1990s, documenting three “varieties of unconscious experience,” unlike C.G. Jung’s similarly titled Memories, Dreams, Reflections in the English translation, which is a classic autobiography.

I have always tended to believe the inner voices originate outside me, perhaps as microwave broadcasts picked up by silver mercury fillings in teeth, as one of my college mentors, the 1950s novelist and conspiracy theorist H.L. “Doc” Humes, used to teach long before the existence of cellphones and wifi. But they might be fragmentary conversations overheard and preserved in the course of life. They might be chatter created by the brain, just as the brain creates dreams. They might be some mixture of the three. They might be something else entirely. Whatever they are, I like the idea that we have this stream of voices flowing deep within us, rarely if ever heard. Each transcription could begin and end with ellipses, a minuscule segment of the continuous stream. More important from the point of view of poetry, the inner voices almost always speak a sentence or a phrase—a line. If the line is the unit of inner voices, then inner voices are a psychic underpinning of poetry, one of the ways poetry is embedded within us. We have this continuous multivocal poem “streaming” within us, only audible in the briefly inhabitable borderland between waking life and sleep.



Everything else is set up
If this is why I sent you
They’ll come

Four, please
Go on, now it’s gone

The fingers are down
The necks
And we have cereal once a week

I might all of a sudden disappear
The match

Do you want to give yourself up to me?
What the guy was giving up
What did we say about that?
Hang around for which sister?
Who else would want it?
To make sure she won’t forget it

Don’t worry
It very well could be
He’s a great guy

Garrine, do you know?
Stephen Kern

Yell and give me a call
I would let you know

I mean
Did you know his name is Farino?
John Stern is not one of his many friends
Try Kenny

I worked the day before so much
I have far too good friends in this school
That’s one of the problems waiting for you

He comes down last night
Very funny, right
No, no-no-no-no
He didn’t scream
Today, he isn’t screaming

This I heard this morning
You might want to keep it

Wanting space-space-space-space-space
She has New York, hunh?
It is, it is
On my floor



Would you still connect?

The hamburger from the pie
Some chagrin

I’m not even saying
I’m suggesting

Ask me to say some things
Don’t take away

Sleep for a while
You sleep for everybody

I notice it around here
Theater tickets

In several good ways
Another year

You sure?
You say, “Hunh?”

You imitate the language of your—
Or irritate it

Today means nothing
More than two



Find out if he’s there
A person to be reached
Suppose he doesn’t have it

You never rotted me
You were really nice to me, were you?

Running stars now
On a separate line

Which would save his life
Something else, wouldn’t it?

Tonight’s headline
Manders tonight
Klondike Bill

Reilly’s staying here
He says here about this thing
The danger is
I’m in a smart position but—
Comfortably situated
Stock action

See if you can smile
All that stuff
Cuz we wasn’t there
Tama Maflani’s in Denver

Dow’s candy bars

Wait a minute
An hour or not
An hour or nothing
It would have to go by

She just does it
His youngest-youngest-youngest
Overshadowed by icky
By an icky layup
You should have stayed at football yesterday
So you didn’t have to … differentiate

Deep-fingers Dan here did it two weeks ago

It sounds like several people
I don’t just throw these out
No, you Northerners can
Well, the experience was longer
How was your visit

His only chance is to get some

You know which issues then?
Because we’ll be free tonight
You know what I think
I think she likes you
We’re not suited temperamentally
I’m so glad you remembered that

But let’s dance an eleven o’clock movement every day
You wouldn’t be well enough to pay for it

In quiet?
You keep saying that to yourself
Do you know when it opens again?
Yes, open the door in 90 minutes

Why do you spell maybe?
A little drairy
An angel in the cornfield

I’m not really eating anymore
I’m rested
Grab the milk
Grab the extra cheese
Because network isn’t the answer here

I want to come down there, and calm them down
The city of Birmingham will have to wait
If so
If there is a yemma son
And if we don’t have
If we lost some

Linky Smith describes how awful it is and becomes

I’m just an other
Soul sunk

We should have less racing



It’s another thing
It doesn’t
It was—nice

Big deal costs little typical money
Typical money, typical money

When he comes

Across the river, it’s being done by a Baptist
Whom society really seems to help

The husband just doesn’t like anything
On a study of one

I have not seen you on Tuesday nights

Just before parents are taken next weekend

That’s just a side of things
Well, he’s uh here

It’s just never going to go anywhere

Did you show him how to do it?
Did he master the shovel?
Also using the fish

What day is it?
Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, eat ’em up

Never smoking
How ’m I gonna change the world?
How ’m I gonna get anywhere?



You don’t know where help will come from


It gave me a beautiful uh

Who was Jody?
Cuz I never did see him again

His beams have been tossed
Because he’d gone into this

From a few years ago
Free school

Vaguely manage to communicate

You have to train your sweater
Before you—
You got no boots

In the school system
You know, they’re sold

Murky people
Thank the people who work for him
Nice to hear about him

Some days I’m not up to doing much
You know who I am?

That’s their second
That’s their second window

Life was wrong
I was with you this morning, telling you about it



As soon as people stop mattering to each other

The best way to do it
Finger the upholstery

Early morning
No one knew

One catastrophe
One sylvan

Now if I’d settled again
I might start paying myself

An almost ultimate part of the soul
On a healing basis

Snows, you know
The whole has to get siding

The Russian youth movement

It’s random good
A mashiki

You in enough trouble

Few books make much difference
The class of any existence

We ain’t falling in the woods anymore
Rattling any chains

When you get in a scoff
With everything

It was from Diglia


I don’t really want to think about him at this point in my life

I like the aeration
Then the breeze comes

Then he could be right there

You feel pulled down
To Pittsburgh

It’s been very stable this year
I didn’t want to say anything

Will I need to take you all?
I’m not sure what Dave said

Today was this day I had to write
You’re right

We still have the hairy guy in
Last night and the—

We just got in
We just got in
It didn’t
How did you do that?

…is not getting napped
Not even right now

They’re coming
They’re coming
The main spur for finding out

We didn’t have to fear the hurdling

Before that, gases in Pennsylvania
You couldn’t—the skin

Michael Ruby
Michael Ruby

Michael Ruby is the author of five poetry books:At an Intersection (Alef Books, 2002), Window on the City (BlazeVOX [books], 2006),The Edge of the Underworld (BlazeVOX, 2010), Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010) andThe Star-Spangled Banner (Dusie, 2011). A sixth poetry book, American Songbook, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse.His trilogy in poetry and prose, Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices, has just been published by Station Hill of Barrytown. A graduate of Harvard College and Brown University’s writing program, he lives in Brooklyn and works as an editor of U.S. news and political articles at The Wall Street Journal.