How Small the Sky Really Dreams by Mary Ann Cain


Moving from illness, back into memory, and again into an ever-present present, the poems in How Small the Sky Really Dreams find new spaces to inhabit within the undulating, rhythmic, teeming natural world, a world of bodies, movement, and deep interconnections, a world where upheaval and terror are not separate, extraordinary experiences but deeply part of the warp and weft of existence.  In short, this is a book that pushes limits of the human need to settle into received narratives and instead finds peace through the ongoing change and chaos of an endlessly shifting world. How Small the Sky Really Dreams is very much a book of this current moment of uncertainty and change, while at the same time part of an ongoing, eternal spiritual exploration into the nature of being and becoming.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 92
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-953252-09-8


How Small the Sky Really Dreams revels in origins, endings, and transformations. Bodily truths abound in its pages—from the cosmos of the embryo to the upheavals of puberty; from the cancer patient trafficking in metaphors to the “refigured” self, newly mindful of her connections to all being. Fearless in its questing and its questioning, Mary Ann Cain’s collection is a dream book for our times. —Karen Kovacik

Cancer has a way of throwing its victims out on the middens pile. The speaker in Mary Ann Cain’s book of poems, How Small the Sky Really Dreams, finding herself in such a place, refuses a comforting heroism in the face of it. Instead, these poems face loss with moving clarity. In the battle with fate and death she turns a fierce intelligence toward our ancestral origins, from the “amniotic tropic” of a mother’s womb to the animals, or, as she puts it, the “ferity” we once had.  “How do I recall a whole/ I never had?,” she asks in “Why Go Back to Broken?” “What was broken is now// broken in new spaces. To recover is going deep/ into the drumbeat/ wing of a bird.” Like the African drummer, Cain makes both the dead and dying animal speak songs that sear and sustain in the same breath. —Roger Mitchell


Why Go Back to Broken?

Hummingbirds perch
instead of hover.
How do I recall a whole
I never had?
What was broken is now

broken into new spaces.
To recover is going deep
into the drumbeat
wing of a bird. I fear
the palm reader,
Aruna, in India 20 years before
forecasting my fragility despite
80 years expected.
Of course I want more than a finite

sound. In West Africa
drums speak in overtones,
the ancestral hand a secret bone
not known to this drum
except inside the goat’s
skin. Broken
horn, broken bone:
Why go back

to broken? The new breaks and the old.
Limbs. Fractured. The new ones
do not repeat themselves, and the old,
full of sorrow,
in a sound I never had, may never
recover. To re-cover is to clothe, go
deep into the drum beat
wing of a bird. A fear
I see, hear, in the bones
of the palm reader’s hand.


Mary Ann CainMary Ann Cain’s fiction, nonfiction essays, and poems have appeared in literary journals ranging from venerable standards such as The Denver Quarterly, The Sun: A Magazine of Ideas, The Bitter Oleander and The North American Review to experimental venues such as First Intensity and LIT.  Her books include a biography of Chicago artist-teacher-activist Dr. Margaret Burroughs, South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs (Northwestern University Press, 2018), a novel, Down from Moonshine (Thirteenth Moon Press, 2009), and two scholarly books, Composing Public Space: Teaching Writing in the Face of Private Interests (Heinemann, 2010) and Revisioning Writers’ Talk: Gender and Culture in Acts of Composing (SUNY Press, 1995). How Small the Sky Really Dreams is her first collection of poetry.  She is Professor of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Additional information

Weight 6.3 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in