It is not difficult to understand why the ancients believed that dreams were sent to the dreamer by the gods, either as omen or as instruction or as deception. The other morning, though, when I awoke from an extraordinary dream that was replete with exquisite metaphoric images, it occurred to me that perhaps the gods were themselves poets who were enamored of their dream poems and who delivered their grand works to us simply because they enjoyed the creative process and needed a place to publish their opera.
In my dream poem, which I can call “Afraid,” there was one remarkable image that remains with me — an image that seemed to contain all of my life but that certainly evoked a feeling about the things that right now frighten me: becoming more visible, active, and known in the world, both in relation to my writing and to my engagement with others; and seeking a relationship with a man after a devastating second marriage and after being alone for a long time.
The image was genius and not one I am likely to have concocted by myself in a waking state: I am sitting on an examining table draped only in a hospital dressing gown. At another table, a man, unknown to me, is sitting in a chair and is speaking softly, unalarmingly, about this and that. As he talks he gradually becomes invisible, with his head disappearing first, followed by his neck, shoulders, chest, and lower body. Once fully invisible, he continues talking to me, and I am surprised, but not alarmed, by this.
When deconstructed, with all their poesy wrung out of them, metaphors become coarse and earthbound. When entrusted to the gods, however, they conjure for us a higher, deeper level of life that is shrouded in mystery.
Every once in a while I will enter the name of my blog into a search engine so I can see if anything turns up. Typically there is very little of interest, but occasionally something will startle or rankle. The other day, for instance, I found that someone had commandeered a few lines from one of my pieces and had inserted them into a very public rant about her ex-boyfriend and his offenses.
“Well, really,” I thought, “my high art?”
Then I thought about how, throughout my life, I have taken the words of other writers and have gulped them down whole — so desperate was I to give voice to my sorrows in ways that ennobled them and so uncertain was I of my own ability to persuade another that I existed.
When in The Vanity of Human Wishes Samuel Johnson wrote “life protracted is protracted woe,” he couldn’t have known that at 20 I’d find in the line a holy rhythm that would somehow elevate my youthful sadnesses to a higher realm and, in the process, redeem them. Or, when in As I Lay Dying William Faulkner had his main character, Addie Bundren, declare that “coming unalone is terrible,” he couldn’t have imagined that these four words would reverberate in me for forty years before I could come to understand anything about what they had to do with my life.
This morning my daughter bought me a cafe latte with two shots of espresso and a bouquet of 11 purple tulips. Before leaving the house to get these, along with ingredients for a breakfast she would make, she kissed me and wished me a happy Mother’s Day.
I have been her mother for 30 years, and the truest thing I can say is that I have grown up alongside her. While she was out, I remembered how frantic I had been the day I brought her home from the hospital and how, out of sheer anxiety, I changed her diapers every 10 or 15 minutes because I didn’t know what else to do with myself — or her.
I remembered her bout with head lice and her coinciding bout with a mother who, because she couldn’t tell the difference between the nits themselves and the dandruff she gave her child as a result of excessive medicated shampoo scrubbings and excruciating combings, dragged out the ordeal for many more days than were needed.
I remembered the time I accidentally slammed her finger in our car door and fumbled around in my purse for what seemed like a slow-motion hour looking for a key to unlock it while she stared out at me through the window with eyes the size of saucers. And, I remembered how I had given her the silent treatment during a four-hour car ride back from the ocean because she was giving me the silent treatment during that same ride and my feelings were hurt. She was all of ten at the time, I think.
As we sat across from one another and ate the delicious ciabatta french toast she prepared, I felt a sense of peace and a feeling of great gratitude that she had survived my childhood.