Tag Archives: dreams

Mad Girl’s Love Song


I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

– Sylvia Plath


So there’s this woman…

“A hair perhaps divides the False from True;”
Or False of True thy Verses, we thus due
Of meed bestow on One so bitter-sweet;
We read and dream then dream and read anew.

– Charles P. Nettleton, from the forward of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


“We read and dream then dream and read anew,” the line jumped out at me as I perused a beautiful ruin of a copy of The Rubaiyat printed by the Roycrofters. Reading is something of a dream. Even the way the tone and rhythm of a given story clings to one’s day, disturbing the line between real and oneiric. There is that easy way in which we begin to think of characters as if we know them and miss them when we have had to put the book down in order to, say, make dinner, fold laundry, do homework, or show up for work- all the tasks that we like to think don’t actually make up the bulk of our lives.

“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life” – Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (218).

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a lovely story in which many lives overlap and influence each other in this blizzard we call life – the cannibals eat each other while the emotionally starved find meaning in seemingly sacrificial acts that turn out to be the only thing that can’t really be bought or sold. It’s the hard-sell, the prostituting of our collective souls, that is the nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from.

To pitch is to live. People pitch their kids into good schools, pitch offers on houses they can’t afford, and when they’re caught in the arms of the wrong person, pitch unlikely explanations. […]…It’s endless, the pitching – endless, exhilarating, soul-sucking, and as unrelenting as death (28-29).

But what is a dream if not something we always wake up from? Every morning our eyes open to our lives again. Our story can begin anew. And, of course,  it’s all a love story – that’s what life is.  In Beautiful Ruins Walter’s most craven character, the chemically petrified Michael Deane, self-appointed pimp of the pitch, insists it is. And – he’s not wrong. It is all a love story. It can either be pitched as one, or lived as one.

O threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain- This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest – is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

– The Rubaiyat

image from – roycroftbooks.org

maybe probably

To think is to speculate with images. Aristotle, Aristotle, Aristotle.
– John Crowley, Love and Sleep (236)


“Hiding” with permission by Tony Donovan, The Ivoryton Studio

My life, most likely as yours, can be told in many different ways. One story involves a barefoot girl, with tangled hair and a rat trap for a foot-rest, hiding. This photo of myself endures, partly because I can refer physically to the image, and also because it’s true. That is me. Maybe probably. As I read the first part of John Crowley’s Love and Sleep, this picture occupied a corner of mind.

“Oh all right,” he said at last, annoyed at himself for being unable to refuse; he had never been good at refusing. If he could not evade or avoid, he usually assented. (175)

Also me. But there are other tales. Another story involves my very dignified Irish American grandmother giving me many books in my teenage years—she loved historical fiction, and I read more about the various kings, queens, princes and dukes of the United Kingdom and Europe than I had any understanding or pedantic interest. One that stayed with me was of Mary Queen of Scots. I thought of that book and the little I vividly recall of it: Mary’s trusted Italian adviser, and also her horrendously botched beheading—”Jesú,” she said after the first non-fatal whack, while I read the second part of Love and Sleep. These stored images created out of books I have read, pages from the careful folds of my mind, would appear as I read Crowley’s complex tale.

Why was he here? How could he have come to be here?[…] Just because a world-age is governed by certain laws—the iron laws of tragic necessity, or the wooden ones of melodrama, or outlandish, constant Coincidence—does not mean we do not marvel to find ourselves subject to them. (466)

Love and Sleep, the second of Crowley’s AEgypt Cycle quartet fascinates me. This book’s focus is…magic. Alchemy and astrology, history, dreams, Eros, and angels. Perhaps focus is too strong a word. The book, like one of the threads or themes that Crowley intertwines, cycles in and out of the mind and heart. Perspicacity grows in hindsight, the cycle can only be seen once its passed. But there is a subtlety to the way the novel is told. It’s not that it ever shakes or stabs violently at the heart, it is more an assassin that swiftly runs by, from out of nowhere, and with one deft stroke runs you through. Pin point precision through the heart with a solid gold blade.

“Love-sick, ” Pierce said. His own heart had begun the steady rapid beat, little hard fist knocking at a cell-door, that had come to be nearly constant, had alarmed him enough to send him to a doctor, a real modern one, who listened and told him to relax.
“The soul ceases to be able to think of anything else, because the spirit can’t reflect anything else. The phantasmal reflection of the other person, let loose in your spirit, takes on a sort of phony autonomy.” (500)

” A real modern one” —I love that detail. And it’s those details that connect me on a strangely personal level to these stories—finding shared threads that match my own; weaving Crowley’s threads into the tapestry of my own history. There is a neatness,  a quiet controlled quality to his prose, and yet, his book is a Gordian knot: tightening then loosening, and tightening again, always a problem to be worked out, worked over.

He and all those who ransacked their vocabularies (in Latin, Italian, French, English) for words that meant what logos means in Greek — “word,” “idea,” “reason,” none of them right or large enough. Maybe because they had no word such as Meaning has since become in English.  (259)

I read Middlemarch years and years ago, but what I most remember is the way that that book snuck up on me, by the end —something of a beginning —I found I had given myself entirely to the story, and it to me. Love and Sleep shares that quality. It’s the glimpse of Meaning: the overall effect is a wind storm through the soul.

Magic is love: nothing but the power of love in the heart of the operator can move the souls of others; nothing but love can command the intelligences of the air. Without love even the simplest Art of Memory could not operate; without attraction and revulsion, what attaches the soul to images? (420)

This spring events large and larger have swept me further out to sea, perhaps towards an Unknown Island. The books I read associate themselves with my stories and memories, and they become a gust of wind, a part of my tale. My life is a story, a series of stories, and many stories shared. True,  Melancholy needs distraction (227) and I will take it. But more than that, because reading is not, for me,  mere distraction, reading is also connection—I gladly accept the gift of the gale. Let me see what tomorrow’s page will bring.

There had not been one, not one wish since childhood that his heart had been poured into, that was not about love. – John Crowley, Love and Sleep

A Banished View


Your head lay sweetly on my lap
hair turned red, another dream
of my complete collapse.
In bright colors I did linger,
while on white stripes I made a map-
your song: still known with artful fingers.

Eyes open in the dark’s recant
still held by Eleutherios’ minion.
In his grip I remain verdant,
Can something be so true?
or am I sadly pinioned
to a thing that’s base and rude?

The fruit for which I was made
was kicked far out of view.
And an empty void should go away
azure and bright, if blue.
Yet the Serpent’s bite which makes it stay
ever muddles up the hue.


Fairy of Fate

As my only answer, I let my head drop on his heart, as I had so often done in my dreams.
-María Luisa Bombal, House of Mist (53)


What took place after that was unquestionably the most tragic experience any woman in love could have had to endure in all her life. (63)

Every morning among my emails a question of the day for SAT practice appears. I only have a couple of weeks left, I really need to practice the math but about three to one are grammar and vocabulary questions. My 17 year-old son and I will take the test together, which delights me and somewhat dulls the anticipated pain.

The other fun part of taking the test is the seemingly random literary references that appear in the grammar sections. Either a Roberto Bolaño reference is wildly inappropriate for teenagers, or perfect. I can’t quite decide.

One of the questions involved the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal. I was intrigued enough to hunt her down. It wasn’t effortless. The librarians I work for relieved me of some of my bottomless ignorance- where I had thought I was doing sweeping state-wide searches for books, I had in fact been trapped in a small consortium of libraries. I was so happy to discover this, that when I went back into the stacks, to finish the shelves I was meant to dust and “read” for accuracy of order, I put my headphones on and danced.

So, victory! I finally found Bombal in the U.S. Coast Guard library of all places. That’s the odd path that led me to this writer. I love an odd path.

“So Serena is engaged?” I inquired, just for the pleasure of repeating their sister’s lovely name.

What a wonderful detail – just for the pleasure of repeating.…. Initially I was unsure what to make of the child-like voice of the heroine, but it’s a beautifully fresh if odd voice. There is a sad mysteriousness at the heart of the tale, the first being how she could possible love the beastly Daniel. But even there I am sympathetic, the arrow of  love is a powerful force and does leave one a defenseless child of Eros. It’s cruel. The book is like a fairy tale – brutal, nostalgic, magical, with a child’s profound capacity for fear and passion.

The word “fairy” can be etymologically traced to the Latin  Fata, the Goddess of fate. Fate is a strange concept: whether or not we are resisting or yielding to something that is real is a plaguing question. Are we fated to be loved or unloved? It’s convenient to think so –it’s not me, it’s fate– is a salve on the heart of the miserable. Never the less, everyone knows fairy tales end happily. Everyone also knows that fairy tales don’t exist -except between the covers of the pages.

And it happened that in spite of myself, I was beginning to hear the precise working of this destructive rhythm hidden at the center of life.
Tic-tac! I could hear, out there in the abandoned tower, the books in the enormous library shriveling up, turning yellow, being blotted out, collapsing in rows…(74)

Life as a library is a favorite theme of mine. Here it is almost a metaphor for being an unloved woman. Bombal was known for writing stories about women who escaped their lives into a dream world ( according to the SATs). Her life took an extraordinarily odd path as well:  there was her suicide attempt, her near murder of one husband (probably had it coming as he didn’t share her love of literature), friendships with Neruda and Borges- is it any wonder that she keeps the story on half-footing in and about reality?

And that night I knew love…that love of which I had had only a glimpse through Daniel’s taciturn passion, the love that gives and receives…the love that is knowledge, exaltation, tenderness… (115)

I confess, I became absorbed in the story.  The orphaned heroine is quite lovely and grows on the reader. Like me, she roots for the love story, even when it is not her own. The Beauty and Beast heart of the tale is complicated by the loose boundaries of the mind. The heroine remains throughout the entire story pure in her love. It seems a fragile, childish thing, but the force of it is unrelenting.

Called La última niebla in Spanish, (which, correct me if I’m wrong, translates as The last mist) still, as a title, The House of Mist works, all fairy tales need a house –  the starting point of the collusion by collision of our inner and outer worlds that clouds our view and tangles the path.

For now, now I knew all was but a dream, life to me seemed no more than a long, dull, purposeless road along which in time I would become old and die without having known love (162)

Elephants in the Room


I am an ordinary room.
Close to the walls,
making myself small.
Far from the hearth
never mind the embers or coals.
I wrote myself a note and left it
on the counter of my dream-
Don’t feed the elephants
But I forgot to remind myself
what I could possibly mean.
Unspoken in the center
where I have no part
I am an ordinary room
suffering the elephants
of my heart.

-JA 2013

The Deep

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

~William Stafford

This poem was sent to me today by a very sweet person. Thank you sweet person. To know what occurs but not recognize the fact. Yeah. There is that. I had a dream this morning in the fleeting moments before I woke, I spent half the day lost in its sensory detail: an interlude without the betrayal of my mind.

Walking down a street I suddenly turned left
onto a large wide winter-clean boardwalk
rising up over the descent down to the ocean.
The water was transparent, each grain of sand a cause for celebration.
There were no thoughts in my head.
In the folding of the dream, now naked,
I was running towards the water.
So clear. A perfect steel grey.
Not knowing I was going to do it,
I dove in hands leading and swam out through
the lumbering waves and into the deep.
The water! The water! So cold it had no temperature,
so clean it had no weight,
I swam until my memory of the littoral plane almost snapped
and then I turned around and began the swim back:
aware that my limbs were becoming numb,
my motion disorganized and strained by
the paralysis of the the intense clean cold.
I never thought I wouldn’t make it back to the shore.

Last Night I Had a Dream My Nightmare Was Over

Last Night I Had a Dream My Nightmare Was Over

Farthest dream- beneath my sleeping weight,
over my oppressed pillow, between my folded limbs.
Respite from my smothered hours.
Gentle Night: you are my one,
embrace me! exalt me!
take me! erase me.

Make room for me
erstwhile friend, sweet Night.

A Trance of Fancy

                                                              So I loved a dream?
My doubt, a mass of ancient night, concludes
in many a subtle branch, which, since the real woods
remain, proves, alas! what I offered to myself
as triumph was the ideal lack of roses.
Let’s think it over…

-Stéphane Mallarmé, from The Afternoon of a Faun

As I lay sleeping…

On the back of this stirring painting, The Nightmare,  by John Henry Fuselli (1781) is a sketch of a portrait of a woman that the artist had loved and lost. She often visited him in his dreams (of an erotic nature). I find this very moving. I too have an active dream life. Sometimes they are so obviously tracable to my day to day activities I find it annoying: once I had a long involved dream about getting ready for work. I was furious when I woke up and had to – get ready for work.

Writer and philosopher Steven Pinker believes that human beings only imagine the soul as separate from the body, making the afterlife a possibility in some people’s minds, because we dream. He argues that if we didn’t have the out of body experience of dreams we would be unable to conceive of ever existing outside of our bodies (we can not imagine what we can not imagine). That idea: that our imaginations are the ultimate in limitation, is something I find interesting. I think Plato touches on both these ideas with his Allegory of the Cave: of course- what we perceive as reality, but also what we are or are not capable of imagining.

I have always had vivid dreams, I still remember many nightmares of my youth and many wonderful dreams when I was devastated to wake- mind and body unwillingly reunited. Some people I know have seemingly prophetic dreams, but mine don’t seem prophetic.  I have never dreamt the winning lotto numbers or any answers to my most burning questions. They seem entirely limited to my own imaginings.

My youngest son and I often discuss dreams because he doesn’t remember having them and I do and we wonder why that is so. Maybe he has it all worked out and has no need of nightly sessions of intense processing. Maybe it requires a measure of self-cruelty to experience a demon on ones chest, tormenting the soul with desires or anxieties, trapped in your limits.

“It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before… to test your limits… to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin