31 December, 2014

Random Insane Dream Journal Excerpts

I began keeping a dream journal back in July, hoping to cultivate a more active dream life and maybe spur some lucid dreams in the process. On the first point I’ve been successful, recording an average of one page per night of my subconscious adventurings. On the latter point, not so much. But something I realize is that the contents of a person’s dream journal, read out of context, have the potential to be equal parts terrifying and hilarious. To wit:

26 July 2014, 1:36 AM — I am a mid-level Pokemon-style dragon in an RPG come to life. On the busy streets of a major city, I am on the hunt for a specific car. What my intentions are with the car, I’m not certain. All I know is that when I spot it, a late-model oxblood Mustang, it’s driving very slowly through a hospital zone clogged with idling green-and-white ambulances. It spontaneously explodes in that moment, flipping forward in slow motion as the fireball erupts like the car’s passed over an enormous landmine. I hear the word scrubs from nowhere in particular and am filled with profound disappointment.

29 July 2014, 7:23 AM — Have I attended a convention? It seems so.

8 August 2014, 7:20 AM — Just the vague notion of inconsequence.

20 August 2014, 5:01 AM — I ride into a federal prison that bears an uncanny resemblance to Walmart. My transportation is a Winnebago. The other prisoners predictably test me in their various ways, for sex, for extortion. They all fail. Instead of succumbing to their wills, I go browse the aisles. Someone is with me, at least through the books section, but I don’t pay enough attention to him to recall who he is, or what he says to me there. I find myself suddenly back at the front of the prison/store, sitting in a wide wheelchair, awkwardly propelling my way past the checkouts, where some of the Crossroads square cooks seem to be comparing their answers to a quiz in a ladies magazine. Another prisoner tells me I can get around faster in my chair. The next thing I know, I’m rocketing through the sky, a bullet-shaped medieval French helmet on my head, out of control but at least headed in a straight line. When I land at last, in spite of all the distance I ought to have covered, I’m still in the prison.

21 September 2014, 2:24 AM — Pulling up to the 51st Street Muddy’s, I see old friends seated outside as if it’s the late-’90s all over again. There’s Shira, Tara, Mike, Brahm, Haven — even Ashley, waving. I’m on my way into the coffeehouse when Francisco bounces out, excitable and as over-the-top as ever. There’s no feeling of reunion; it’s as if no time at all has passed. All I feel is the warmth of friendship. When Francisco breaks away, I see that the Plaza lights are dead. All power has simply gone out. I take off the tie I’ve been wearing and rebutton my collar points. A couple of fat black flies land on my hand and bite me, stinging sharply. I shoo them and they dance wildly in the air a moment before lighting on my face and biting again. I swipe at them and catch both in my hand (my left!); however, not wanting to crush them and get bug guts all over my bare palm, I release the irritating bastards only to have them land and bite me a third time. It’s at this point that the dream decoheres. A mangy gray-and-brown cat claws its way onto a horse’s back and clings to its mane as the two animals ride off into some stunted vegetation.

6 October 2014, 5:45 AM — I’m on a walking tour of Paris, the first portion of which finds me swimming with a few other tourists in the Seine. The river is filthy, of course, and practically alive with snakes. One, a ropy one with scales like polished onyx, writhes on the water’s surface near my face, threatening in its ease of motion. I swim away, only to come up against a bobbing turd. A girl I’m with shrieks. We all clamber up the bank via a set of slick stone steps and head off to explore more of the city. At a fruit stand run by a man wearing a handlebar mustache and greengrocer apron, we sample what are marked as $5 apiece blueberries yet are clearly green apples. Then we buy up the huckster’s entire stock, because we’re ugly Americans who are too worried about appearing cultured not to buy them (and if these are what the French call blueberries, well…).

27 October 2014, 6:00 AM — I’m sharpening pencils that keep breaking off. The sharpener itself is mounted inside a small safe, and as I pull each pencil out to inspect its point, a woman seated right in front of the safe door gets shavings in her hair. She acts put-out by this but won’t move.

7 November 2014, 1:46 AM — Trying to fold a big, ripped bag of Doritos in a house full of sleeping war veterans who are crashed out in easy chairs and on fold-out surfaces, I can’t find any room in which I won’t wake someone. Eventually I give up and just crumple the thing, making one hell of a racket. Nobody stirs. The elderly sleep more soundly than I thought. But morning comes on quickly. All the aging soldiers, pilots, sailors, and marines gathering their bags for a planned reunion. I board a single-prop airplane to join them, and end up flying over the gorgeous African veldt at sunup. Rivers coil into the distance. Green trees reach up from vast grassy plains. The early morning fog swirls away to reveal that I’m actually just watching a fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund, the greasy, dark-haired host of which makes me mutter, “This is such bullshit.”

15 November 2014, 3:18 AM — Following what seems at first like a video game shootout with a deranged hag and her bald, apparently inbred son, I meet up with a large-framed black guy who, for whatever reason, wants me traveling with him to Texas in his vintage pastel pink Cadillac. He believes his children are in Houston, and he claims to need me to help him secure the paternity test. Good times.

5 December 2014, 5:00 AM — I’m building a Lego spaceship, a mostly black one. Kelly is with me and we’re floating bodily above the houses that line Ward Parkway. I’m pulling random pieces from the ether, clicking each in place as I think it fits on the ship in my hand. While I’m busy with this, Kelly makes a deal with her mother for some drugs behind one of the houses, where I can’t see her, emerging with two pieces I neither need nor particularly want, as though they compensate for her bad behavior. The spaceship I finally build lands on a verdant planet that looks like true paradise: bubbling springs, mossy rocks, thick willows, fallen oaks, and other idyllic woodsy stuff. One of the astronauts disembarks and goes down on all fours to drink from a fresh-looking brook trickling over round white stones. No sooner than he’s taken a sip, he begins to choke. Eyes wide and panicked, he gurgles a warning to his crewmates: “You’re all going to die!” His lifeless body collapses at the edge of a gorgeous, shimmering pool and is immediately seized in the enormous hand of a being that looks like the Abominable Snowman from those awful old stop-motion Christmas programs, only with a greenish masklike marking over its eyes. The astronaut’s head fits neatly in its maw as it crunches down and decapitates the man. Garish red blood goes everywhere, and Kelly laughs at the grainy 1950s horror-movie vibe of it all.

25 December, 2014

A Poem from the Vaults, on the Anniversary of My Father’s Death

Sylvan Elegy
For Dale

Silence owl-heavy in branches,
a requiem for the long ago
when yours fingered skyward.

Now wind whips bitter, your foliage
fallen. It’s just the way of things. Making way.
Old growth unobstructs the sky for saplings.

I stood beside you at that winter’s front.
Bark’s enfolded the letters, but some boy with a knife
carved your name on this oaken heart.

* * * * *

The poet strives to make sense of the world through words, a Herculean (if not Sisyphean) endeavor. Elegy wrestles with the many-headed beast we call grief. I penned the earliest draft of this poem, “Sylvan Elegy,” in January of 1998, about a week after my father’s death from sudden illness. I was barely nineteen and only slightly better versed in poetry than in loss, and the poem’s first incarnation was a melodramatic mess several times as long. I pruned it back and sculpted it the way one might trim a bonsai. Now, on the seventeenth anniversary of my father’s untimely demise (and, weirdly, his fiftieth birthday), I find it unexpectedly finished. Strange, how things come to their end.

03 December, 2014

Prison Shit’s Got Me Edgy

A mass transfer was announced last week. A slew of lower-level inmates here are about to be shipped to other prisons around the state. While this wouldn’t normally make a bit of difference to me, labeled a maximum-security prisoner by the Missouri Department of Corrections, my cellmate of the last seven months is one of those being put out. Unfamiliarity is always a little scary, but not knowing who I might get stuck cohabitating with, in this place full of bad habits and questionable ethics, is more unnerving than everyday change.

Not that my current cellmate is by any means easy to get along with. He’s impulsive, emotionally unstable, selfish, hyperactive, and lacking the ability to keep his interior monologue inside. He hates silence, which basically puts us at diametrically opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Still, he’s friendly, clean, and has all his own stuff (a plus, since prison life is absent much luxury), and these few high points make the difference between a tolerable arrangement and an impossible one. A fellow can’t be too picky — literally: it isn’t possible.

But now he’s leaving. I’m trying to find the needle in this haystack of misfits — the one guy in a position to move, whom I suspect would make for an acceptable long-term cohabitator. My criteria might appear minimal but are actually hard to meet:
  • Nonsmoker
  • Won’t skim from my canteen or postage stamp stashes
  • Washes hands after using the toilet
  • Doesn’t sleep later than 9 AM
I would prefer that he also have a job that takes him out of the housing unit in the mornings, since I peak, creatively, between 9 AM and noon. On this point, however, I’m flexible. As long as I get time to type what I need to type, and a little peace in which to read in the evening, I’m golden.

Moves are a pain in the ass. They can’t just be asked for, by policy. A guy generally needs to fill out a set of forms and have them signed by all parties affected by said proposed move. Since this process is traditionally on a “body-for-body” basis (a phrasing that speaks to prisoners’ warehoused status, as though we’re all cordwood or already in caskets), that means fours signed assents. Tricky business, that. Almost inevitably, some fickle soul will back out by telling a caseworker, after signing, that he’s changed his mind, that he was coerced, or that the signature is a forgery. The illusion of order imposed on the process by bureaucratic sleight of hand belies the willy-nilly truth.

I have to try, though. I have to. The alternative is just too sketchy. Better the devil you know, and after my current cellmate boards that bus so affectionately dubbed the Gray Goose, his place will go to whatever random convict the system pulls up — cellmate roulette — unless I act early. It’s that terrible game that landed me such odious personalities as Bruce, Ray, Hoss, Bob, Tracy, Snake, and Blake. I’d just as soon not have to add to that list an eighth character study. So I search.

And the search takes time — time I’d rather use to write, to read, to make phone calls to friends, to do pretty much anything except wait around in the library, or in the ridiculous, frigid cold of the prison yard, for a particular acquaintance to happen by. (It figures that the top candidate on my list is the hardest man to run into, a loner, a fellow who minds his own business, a house mouse.) If I don’t find him, or a suitable analog, soon, I may quickly regret it. Roulette’s not my game.