Nests in the Wall

When I heard the rustling and scratching of animals in the wall cavity near my bed, I thought of this poem I wrote several years ago, originally published in MockingHeart Review:

For My Therapist, After the Diagnosis

I’m writing you these lines to say goodbye
before you forget you ever knew me.
Under the eaves, a house wren trills its cry.
In the morning, it wakes me from those dreams
where you’ve forgotten you ever knew me.
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die.
In the morning, they wake me from those dreams
of needing you to teach me how to fly.
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams.
You wake, then forget, leaving threads untied.
Once more I ask you where you’ve gone and why.
Under the eaves, a house wren trills a cry
that wakes me from these threads I can’t untie.
Dear friend, I’m here again to say goodbye.

***

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

Around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

I thought of Joanne the other day after reading Robert McFarland’s “word of the day” post on Twitter:

Mentor, a tutelary spirit who guides someone who is usually less experienced.

He asked readers to share someone who has acted as a mentor in our lives, and aside from a few excellent poetry teachers, Joanne’s spirit came to my heart-mind.

When she sold her house and moved to an assisted living home, she stopped seeing clients, of course. And I was bereft, not in the way I was when my father died, but a long, slow, heartache that still hasn’t quite healed.

Now we have another nest in the wall, but this time, it’s a squirrel. We have a wildlife management company working on relocating the animals, and we’ve sealed up the hole, but there are tin patches that we’ll need to replace with new siding once the weather warms.

Joanne was the first person in my life who reflected my own spiritual beauty and worth back on me. She taught me to show compassion for myself, to value my inner hopes and dreams. I will always be grateful for her guidance.

I can’t replace the void that Joanne’s illness left in my life. Since her retirement, I haven’t found a therapist who relates to me the way Joanne did.

My mentor is my inner guide, my own true nature, often elusive. To connect with my inner voice requires patience, stillness, faith, and hope.

Gold light on trees, December 2018, @christineswint

Lines from Keats’s Lamia

“It was no dream; or say a dream it was,
Real are the dreams of Gods, and smoothly pass
Their pleasures in a long immortal dream.”

Three lines from Lamia, by John Keats, July-August, 1819.

After I read this passage I decided to copy it down. I need to let the thoughts about the gods’ dreams settle in me for a few days. Maybe it’s just another reason to wish I were immortal. But maybe I can be a god if I dream the right dream.

The speaker is describing a scene in which the beautiful, sad serpent Lamia has lifted the cloak of invisibility from a nymph who has beguiled the god Hermes. Now Hermes can see his love, and she is not a dream.

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Painting of a lamia by John William Waterhouse, c. 1900.

Sudden Transformation

Dream: I look in the mirror and realize I have turned into a young Black woman. I have beautiful dreadlocks that sweep away from my face and fall over my shoulders. My eyes are big and wide, and my mouth is full. I’m surprised and pleased at this sudden transformation, but there is also the recognition that this woman has been inside me all along.

Before I had time to recall my dreams in the morning, I picked out a few poetry collections to bring on our road trip to Chicago–Nikky Finney’s Head off and Split was one. While reading the first piece in the book, “Resurrection of the Errand Girl: an Introduction,” I remembered my dream.

It’s an inspirational book. It looks like my car ride to Chicago will be a good one.

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Zoot Suit

I’m in the kitchen with a bunch of secret service men and children. Barack and Michelle Obama enter, dressed for a state dinner.

Michelle wears a red gown, and Barack is in a longish blood-red coat and a matching fedora. Somehow his hair has grown to his shoulders.

Barack: Should I wear this coat to the party?

Me: yes.

But I think I’m hurting his feelings, so I change my mind and say why not?

Secretly I think the press will pillory him, just like Seth Myers ridiculed Trump’s fox pelt hair.

Barack to his daughter: What do you think? Should I wear this outfit?

Daughter whispers: no, and shakes her head.

Barack: I knew you’d tell me the truth! There’s no way I’m wearing this ridiculous get up.

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Dreams on Vacation

Too much sleep in the morning led to this dream: I’m lying on a recliner in an empty hall. The walls are white. A student with long dark hair approaches me and asks me to read her poem.

The problem is that I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to read the words.

Of course, we usually can’t read in our dreams. If you ever find yourself trying to read in a dream, you might be able to remind yourself that you’re dreaming, and become conscious in the dream.

I tell the girl she’ll have to read the poem aloud if she wants me to give her my response. I keep trying to open my eyes, catching glimpses of a column of typed words running down the middle of a white page.

In the end I force myself awake, without ever knowing what her poem was about.

Dream 2

.

A man is filling a hole with very white sand. The opening looks like the hollow a stone makes in the moment it hits a body of water.

Every time he shovels sand into the pit, he sinks deeper, as though the circle were swallowing him. He begs the hole to have mercy on him, and to my surprise, it listens to him.

In a sudden burst of energy the man plants a tree with human feet in the spot where he had been filling the hole.

What Does it Mean When… ?

My dreams have been highly charged with symbolic images lately, more than likely due to my reading of Man and His Symbols, by Jung et al. I’ve scribbled a few haphazard images down in my journal, but there’s been little free time to think about what the dreams might mean. Instead, I’ve been reading poetry, attending readings, grading papers, planning for classes, cooking a few dinners here and there, and trying to revise a few poems.

I qualify any interpretations of dreams with a big question mark, because it takes a long time to see the patterns in dream symbols. What does it mean if I see a horse lying on its side in a ditch? The only way to know is to take a wait and see attitude.

I let the image simmer for a while, and if it stays with me, I’ll free-write about it. I’ve come up with some rollicking prose poems that way. They’re self-indulgent, but very fun to write. My current project is about miniature foxes.

One of my favorite fiction writers is Kelly Link. She writes about zombies, mysterious rabbits, and homunculi, among other topics. Her stories lend themselves to anyone who enjoys dream imagery, postmodern fantasy, or magic. You can download portions of Magic for Beginners from her website.

A review of Clare Jay's Breathing in Colour

Breathing in Colour Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay


My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clare Jay’s Breathing in Colour ( Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group, March 2009) weaves together threads from many disparate areas of life – dreams, travels, the creative mind, family dynamics, memory, and relationships between men and women. The story, which takes place in the UK and India, blends the characters’ dreams into the narrative with seamless artistry, no easy task (which I know from my own experience of including dream imagery in my writing).

Throughout the course of the novel the reader learns about synaesthesia, a condition in which a person perceives sounds or smells as colors, or numbers and certain letters of the alphabet as colors. Both the mother and the daughter in the novel are synaesthetes, and Clare Jay does a superb job describing how the two characters view the world. Jay is not a synaesthete herself, yet she illustrates their world with vivid accuracy, allowing the reader to glimpse what it might be like to have such ultra heightened senses.

I met Clare Jay two years ago at a conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, where she told me about the novel she was then writing, her lucid dreams (knowing one is dreaming while in the dream state), and her technique for inducing the writer’s trance, which involves yogic relaxation (she is also a yoga instructor) and the recall of dream imagery. I still remember the character I came up with after attending one of Clare Jay’s workshops involving dreams and creative writing. It was a panther woman who sat at the end of my bed. In fact, I’ve written a poem about the panther woman – she holds a special place in my pantheon of fictional characters.

The characters in Breathing in Colour, both the dream man and the ones who walk the earth, are alive with color, smells, texture, and nuance. They are more than three dimensional because of Jay’s bright, sensitive use of language. It’s like going on a magic carpet ride.

Be sure to visit Clare Jay’s beautiful website and blog, where she has information about her next book, Dreamrunner.

View all my reviews.

Dream recall made simple

After chatting with a friend about dreams, I thought it might be a good time to revisit a post from my old blog, maria cristina. I wrote this in July, 2007.

The main way to remember your dreams is to use the power of suggestion. If you say to yourself before you go to sleep, ” I’m very serious about remembering my dreams,” or something like that, eventually you’ll remember. At first you might only remember a fragment, but that’s fine. Write down the fragment. Think about the image. Ask yourself what associations you have with it.

Eventually you’ll remember more, until you find yourself recalling four of five dreams a night, maybe even more than you can handle. All you have to do is repeat your intention to yourself and keep a notebook and pen next to your bed.

I go through periods when I try to connect with my creative mind, usually in an effort to understand myself better. Before I go to sleep I say to myself, ‘ I would really like to remember my dreams tonight’. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I scratch a few words down in a spiral notebook, hoping to retrieve the whole dream in the morning. I’ve been working on my dreams off and on for many years. Has it paid off? Do I have a deeper understanding of my life? It’s hard to say, because the dreams keep changing, and so do I. I can say that for a moment, a remembered dream brings me a sense of fulfillment.

My dreams open a window into a mysterious world. When I’m able to draw that world into my daytime life, the wonder of it amazes me. I record the varied scenes and plots that gather over time: a dog comes loping out of a lake, I sail with a hundred ships on the open sea, a wild woman dances the cumbia, and emerald green insects crawl over my washing machine.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and the door is closed. The dreamscape is hidden. If I’m patient, the images will surface during the day. While taking a long walk a memory will pop into my mind, until I remember the entire dream by the time I’m home. It’s like taking a tapestry out of a dark closet and hanging it on the wall.

Freud wrote that all dreams are wishes or fears. Carl Jung spoke about archetypes and the collective unconscious. Their theories interest me and help me, but I rely on my own interpretations. The metaphors and symbols are personal. Usually, if I record the dream and let it simmer inside, my own meaning bubbles up. It’s a way of keeping my ear to the ground of my unconscious.

The images that come to me in the night might lead me down a path of enlightenment. Maybe I’ll bring what I find back from my sleep, and show it to others. Will I create a poem? Will I write a story? Or will I dream the dream of divine love?

Night of the lagoon

The following might be a poem, or a story, I’m not sure which. I wrote the piece first in Spanish, and then translated it into English. Something about the narrative reminded me of one of my favorite South American authors, Horacio Quiroga, so I wrote it first in Spanish.

Please listen, if you have time. It took me almost an hour to figure out how to upload the darn file! But now I know how. That’s how it is when we have to teach ourselves, a lot of trial and error.

A poetry workshop leader said recently that she didn’t think it was fair to use symbols from dreams in poems. The symbolism is too personal, too obscure to be understood. But to me, the image of the water seemed universal. Who hasn’t dreamed of dark water, or being swept up by giant waves? And the neighbor is more than likely myself, seen as the other.

Tell me what you think. Is it fair to use dream imagery in poems?

noche de la laguna/night of the lagoon (audio)

Noche de la laguna

Anoche soñé que una inundación
subió hasta el segundo piso de mi casa.
Todos salimos a las terrazas
para averiguar por qué el aire sabía a ranas.

Era de noche, y la luna se reflejaba
en un espejo oscuro de agua.
Me inliné sobre el balcón, pensando
¿cómo voy a escaparme?

En los jardines las coronas de los árboles
se asomaban de la laguna como enormes
caras de hombres frondosos. Desde su terraza
mi vecina de al lado se clavó los ojos

en los míos y me dijo, sin sonido,
como sólo ocurre en los sueños,
– No fui yo. No me eches la culpa.
Tenía razón, la pobre. Siempre le culpaba

por todo. Volteé la cabeza, fastidiada.
Esta vez me empeñé en no bañarme.
Me acordé de las otras veces cuando sí
nadé en los ríos sombríos, atiborrados

de cocodrilos de color azabache,
o cuando me encaré con un muro
de olas que me tragó y me tiró
hasta las profundidades.

Volví al interior de la casa, y cerré la puerta –
por esta vez una solución sencilla se me ocurrió
antes de despertarme.

***

Night of the lagoon

Last night I dreamed that a flood
rose to the second floor of my house.
We all went out to our back porches
to find out why the air smelled like frogs.

It was nighttime, and the moon was reflected
in a dark mirror of water.
I leaned over the balcony, thinking
how am I going to escape?

In backyards crowns of trees
rose from the lagoon like giant
faces of leafy men. From her porch
my next door neighbor fixed her eyes

on mine and told me, without sound,
as it happens only in dreams,
“It wasn’t me. Don’t blame me.”
She was right, poor thing, I always blamed

her for everything. I turned away, annoyed.
This time I was determined not to bathe.
I remembered the other times when
I did swim in dark rivers teeming

with jet-colored crocodiles,
or when I faced a wall of waves
that swallowed me and threw me
to the depths.

I went back inside and closed the door –
for once a simple solution occurred to me
before I woke up.