A Harder Rain (Bob Dylan Cento)

Okay, I rarely preface poems. But sometimes there’s a back story worth sharing.

A few months ago before Covid-19 hit, I was sitting in a psychiatrist’s waiting room. It was an ominous-feeling day for reasons I don’t remember now. Also, I had arrived an hour early and my phone was dead, which didn’t enhance the experience.

Suddenly, “It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” by Bob Dylan came on the radio, and something just shifted into focus in me like it was a message directly from my dreams. The song stayed with me for several days and the lyrics kept repeating in my mind. I have a relationship with Bob Dylan songs in general: he was one of the first musicians I ever loved on my own as a child. His more surreal lyrics were my favorite. So there was a personal connection, but I had honestly not even heard that song since I was about 15 (unless you count the Roxy Music cover, which is more like a goofy robot cabaret. Yes I love Roxy Music. And yes, that was a REALLY weird cover). The song stuck out from the landscape of that day like one of those dancing neon windsock people. I listened to the song on repeat for a few days, feeling the need to marinate in the uneasy mood of it. Then it just disappeared from my consciousness until now. 

Fast forward to a few nights ago: I had an actual dream, some of which made it into the poem content. In addition, several other people had shared odd and insistent dreams or intuited messages that somehow made their way into here as well. As I wrote this, some of the lines from “Hard Rain…” kept cropping up in my head and getting caught on the words I was writing—giving both new meaning/context to my own poem, while also answering the dread the song conjured for me. And some of the lyrics and lines that seemed to WANT to make their way in—aren’t here. They asked to be hidden, like a layer of invisible ink over the poem. 

f you know the song, you can play a bit of hide and seek and find the lyrics in here. If you don’t, it’s worth a listen. 

So, credit to Bob Dylan for borrowed lyrics and serendipities in this cento poem (Cento = Latin for patchwork, a form using borrowed bits of other poems… basically, the poetic equivalent of sampling in rap music). 




Oh, what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?


In your sleep, listen
to the latency of sunrise—
the crickets of dawn receding
as dreams trickle
down the celestial bolus
like fireflies into your open veins.


Nebulas strain
against the edges of blackout curtains.
The entire universe is trying to trespass
with all its available light,
and you’ve mistaken it for a burglar.
Mars is insistent: this isn’t a joke.
Will the sound of glass breaking awaken you?
Don’t be fooled by the burning sulphur.
A comet came and went.
Can you hear the shapes of fire?
They’re burning cities
and dancing in the streets.
In another dimension, they’ve transcended empathy
because their hands are never empty.
There is only love.
Old schools recruit new pupils.
Transit nodes connect the dots.
The hands of lonely travelers
have stretched too far, too long
until the sound of snapping tendons
broke the heart of the sun and moon—
and little did you know, the conversations they had
with the earth over this—and as you slept,
and dreamed hectic dreams, you didn’t know
you were forming roots
in the depths of the deepest black forest.


In electric soil, you reached out blind to one another
gathering sugar in ripening rhizomes—
underground aggregates, crooked highways
under a dozen dead oceans
until time itself realized it was up—
its counting and measuring
a planned obsolescence.


None is the number.
It’s not what you think.
Hear the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.


The hard rain’s a-falling.
The desert’s about to bloom.
Can you hold the shapes of change?
Can you trust the earth to hold us,
as it’s always done—
and when you see the world burn
can you hear the hum of sunrise?


Cities burn as cities burn.
Ashes are minutes
to the timelines of misty mountains
reclaiming their stolen crowns.
Where have you sold your own?
Will you ride the highway of diamonds?
How far from the city will you need to travel
to find the gold in the swamps of oil?
How deep your fingernails
in the black, black soil?


The white ladder of sleep.
The pall of dawn, layered.

The steady drip of hope—
opiate of the poets who die in the gutters,
leaving unfinished songs.


The executioner’s face is in us all
as the ominous Oz curtain falls,
revealing puppetry—suddenly obvious
in its comedy: ten thousand talkers,
naked clockwork. See the patterns?
Tattered flags fly above empty shells
where outgrown rags we mourned for
assume sentience—canonized crystal
within the crust of the earth.


Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young ones?
The stars have heard us. The elders are watching.
The curtains ignored their orders of obscurement.
The dreams you dreamed are breathing
and have left the building.
There’s nothing you can do to stop them:
their roar drowns out the world.


In damp sheets, we toss and turn,
awaiting another day.


We wake each day and forget everything—
layered, sedimentary,


praying for the ordinary—
defending ourselves against miracles.



© Psyche Marks 2020

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