Sunday, July 15, 2007

California Dreamin' Redux: Of House and Home

My first month in Berkeley I awaken to the dream, out of the dream, still in the dream; my dream horizon is as defined and hazy as the Bay fog that hugs the rich hills in its dissipation. I awaken to disappointment, my dream mouth hung open, una boca full of dried flies and drool. I wake to a letter that reads real, a composite of past read letters, the penciled draft lines as real as the real I read in that afterlife. "Our entire life together is a lie." I awaken still reading, still wanting to read, and not, so I waken. I can't tell which letter I am reading, and all are not to me. I am reading over the shoulder of betrayal - a strong word, but it fits. I am reading over the turned back of the one who loves another. Bummer.

My dream life in California is rich and willing to tell me lies inside the half-truths. All of my dreams seem prophetic as much as all of them seem some passed or missed rehearsal for reality. I dream a hand coming out of the cab and inside to grab me by the throat. I scream, loud. I wake the household I am visiting and I laugh, loud, to tell the others, it is only a dream. But so real, the thick hairs and defined muscles in that grasping fist turned towards me. There is nothing to do with that fear and adrenaline but laugh. Loud. The fear dissipates like morning fog, but not; clouds of it still cling to the foreign eucalyptus trees that have replaced the native oaks upon the mount. I dream most in my native land - the reason I left it behind some two decades ago. I needed to change my dreamscape, escape to a place where I don't know the names of things: the skinny winter trees, the desert flowers, the murdering birds, away from the divorcing lines over and over again. I dream long involved plots. I dream a young adult novel. I dream something that is and some things that are not. I kiss often and passionately, the drool I wake to on my pink cotton pillow is the color of blood.

I once dreamed my mother's death. I woke to the position she was in when they found her, her mouth pressed to the broken glass, the fractured pane of the television set, her life companion, the fire. I dreamed her voice at that instant, calling my name, her screaming. I knew she was dead before I called "home" and found out. I don't sit on a certain side of the train or bus or BART, I tell my son. It brings back the dream. He's quiet, for once, and maybe old enough to know. This was yesterday. I was wearing a shirt I've had since I was almost his age. The shirt I wore at 15 still fits me. The San Francisco Mime Troupe shirt I wore when I first dreamed me, dead in a clothes box stuffed in the hole with the heater - the dream I dreamed over and over and woke to with the words: He killed my sister, now he's going to kill me. "It's me," my mother said. "I can feel it. It's me. We are like sisters."

My dreamlife takes an unexpected detour, something fitting of Billie Holiday. The yellow barriers go up suddenly and from out of the dense fog. I don't often have nightmares. Is this what that was? Not really. Almost a minor irritation, a letter in my ex's hand, a draft of a letter not written to me, but my name is there, in pencil, all angular and looped. I read it out loud, so he'll hear what I hear in my afterdreaming, this half-life afterlife. I hear the sound of the Grey Ghost, a train that runs fast through the Bay on its way down to Mexico. the hoboes know how to catch it. They taught it to me. It doesn't stop. It runs straight through. Or, so they say. The train you catch at Wolf's Hour, that break between worlds when most who die in their sleep die. That's when I wake. The whistle blares over and over, a soothing sound to me. It sounds like "home."

I want a home I don't have to put quotation marks around. Have I ever had it, really? This is no lust for a house, but a flesh and blood dream of dwelling, like dwelling inside the language of a poem. A singular and sunstruck peace, a long train that doesn't stop. To get on you have to time it right, match your speed to its as it slows at the deadly trestle before it speeds up again and takes you all the way to the homeland. I want a house by the track so I can remember that sound, the long hemline stitching after the chorus of crickets in the geranium fences have sewn their fabric into night. I want the scent of geraniums, like the ones I had, the cuttings I snip daily from the front gardens of someone else's home. The pots crowd my kitchen sink before the window in this near empty sublet. The scuffed white walls thin as lake ice.

The other day I skimmed an article on training the mind to forget its trauma to the body, the bone house for the Spirit who dwells within. How the mind empties its glass each night so the morning comes without the skinny phrases that haunt you: My mother was murdered. She was raped and her body was burned in the house I grew up in. Those flat line lines that mark the daily deaths of the multiple soul, as the Yucatec Maya believe. How fear and trauma steals your souls, steals your face, as the Deadheads sing. Only love and smoke from the ancestors to the ancestors can save it, bring some back to you. That, and the red sunsets and dawns, the ones that warn the sailors of storm. Susto. And the soul sustanance releasing into air, and beyond. Mas alla. I wonder how this is news, that the mind can forget what was done to the body and its singular cells, including the singular cell of loneliness - that awareness of having no one to answer: I love you, too when you pass. I think that's the hardest thing, the hardest awareness, the cruelest awakening. That singular silence. The long night. The too early awakening into the disappointment of the dream.

The train goes on. The longest train I know. The tweeting birds waken into song. Traffic begins on the streets and all is as it was before, only different. I have practiced this, the long art of forgetting. It's old hat longing for a head. A long letter already written or read. What was it, anyway? Something something something ... whether you do love me as you say you do ... something something something ... that you have exchanged your June for intimacy ... something something something ... has gotten me over Lorna. This is what wakes me, disappoints me. The phrase repeats over and over again, ad nauseum, ad nocturno, an echo in the halls of my souls. Like before, with J, the letter was given to me to prove something to me (something something something) but it isn't written to me. It's to another younger love. Not me. And it only proves I may never hear those words again. As the train goes on, a half-hour long, over a hundred cars of stuff. It used to be sugar beets in my youth. Sometimes it is coal. Sometimes it is tons of rusted metal. Sometimes it is full of apartments of candy colored cars, their gleaming new fenders catching the fire of the sunrise as the windows gray into day, another day of forgetting. A Scarlet O'Hara day without Tara, that "fiddle dee dee," Dee, "tomorrow's another day" I learned so well I could conduct a workshop on it.

And, I laugh.


Blogger Okir said...

Beautiful and disturbing. So the poet takes grief, fear, rage, channels it painfully, necessarily, through the body, and it comes out in words. rushed, hesitant, clotted, humming, streaming. I know the sound of the Grey Ghost. Except for Seattle, every house I've ever lived in (including the apartment in Berkeley) has been near enough to the tracks that I feel the train before hearing it.

15/7/07 11:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Believe it or not when you get to be my age fear dissipates. Fear goes out the door. Fear of death, fear of lost love, fear of loneliness, etc.

Also when you get to be my age you will discover that hankering to unite with a soul mate {the imaginary real, true love} and sexual desire were fueled by hormones. Once menopause happens wanting to be attractive and attracting a love is replaced by a more important and serious understanding of love. Of course you can rev up the whole issue of sexual love by using hormone replacement therapy.

Hormones out of control are a train all to themselves.

Don't forget the love of your life is with you right now - tu hijo.

Take it easy.

Esmeralda Bernal

16/7/07 17:49  

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