Monday, February 2, 2009

Time to Dream

The powerful sleep lobby has taken me over in the past week, and when I get enough sleep and don't have to wake up in what seems the middle of the night to get the kids off to school (6:30 am), I remember my dreams more. The rule at my house is that you don't tell your dream before breakfast unless you want it to come true, and I've recently told two of mine before breakfast. The first was that we had our existing three cats, plus three new kittens. The second was that we were in Hawaii, on the big island.

Fairly often I dream about doing things with people who, when I wake, I know are dead. Then the rest of the day, I go around thinking about what those people would think if they saw what I was doing. My dead are kind people, so I imagine them having a more-than-mortal capacity to forgive my daily foibles. They're like the dead in this poem, "The Dead" by Susan Mitchell:

At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.

We're more likely to stay up playing a card game called Rage into the night in the dining room, but surely it's the same kind of noise (when my children were babies, we used to say that we could only play "Mildly Irritated" rather than "Rage" because we're loud people). I remember the sound of my parents murmuring to each other in the hall after I'd gone to bed, or the sound of them watching Hawaii 5-0 on the television in their living room. It's a reassuring sound, my daughter says, to hear adults talking after you've gone to bed.

And it's a reassuring feeling, to wake thinking of someone and to imagine that she's looking down on you, in turn. It's like in this poem, also called "The Dead," by Billy Collins:

The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

If you're a parent, do you remember waiting for your baby to close his eyes so you could tiptoe out of the room? I remember singing 427 verses of "Froggy Went A-Courting" while my youngest went to sleep. The last 400 verses, of course, were entirely made up. That's a kind of attention that surely endures even after this life is over.

1 comment:

Harriet said...

In our house, the endless libraries began with many verses of "Ave maris stella" sung in Latin. When I ran out of verses, it would turn to Pig Latin and text like:
Oh-gay oo-tay eep-slay
Ittle-ay aby-bay.
Om-may is-ay ired-tay,
Ants-way o-tay est-ray.