Forward-Going: a dream theme

More than once – maybe many times, I haven’t counted – I dream of trying to navigate a difficult path through a massive road reconstruction project. It is always something that is so huge in scope that it is taking years to complete, and tests the patience and endurance of anyone who is forced to travel through it in order to get anywhere.

I’m not navigating a path though, really, because there simply is no path. Just a small mountain range of rocks, boulders, gravel, mud, and sometimes a chaotic and random assortment of earthen and manufactured materials (i’ve seen piping, metal railings, temporary wire grid platforms, steam works, etc), all without function or apparent purpose.

It’s supposed to be a work in progress, but seldom resembles one. It appears to be more of an apparently impossible task that will be finished “some day” and which is always held up by complications and errors and forces beyond anyone’s control, such as weather or geography.

I never see the people who are supposedly working on it. It is always just me, alone, struggling but determined to climb, shuffle, totter, fall, slip and trip my way through. It’s frustrating and hard but I have to do it. There is no alternative. And I never have the impression that there is a specific destination I’m moving toward.

These dreams are always of the rough forward motion of a continuously rough path for which I have to fight every step…and do.

oh little town

under winter coldest stars the rural burg

refuge of a toiling caste in remains of a dream

stronghold of brave young mamas

dodging grimey bristled beggars

huddled at night downlane

wornout worker bees quaffing on the cheap

puffing in the alleys, refuge of the sinners

their urchins wheezing new diseases of the world

and yet will any here deign to drop a dime

in a bellringer’s bucket just the same

for that worndown ancient tale

mystery of a god showing up

beyond notice of the sparkly noise

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

in the alleydark as one of us

humana incognita

the quiet consideration

of such a thing

side show

Photo by mhtoori .com on

He’d been traveling miles on miles of six-lane traffic, barreling down freeway straightaways, through turnpike twists and turns – the usual stuff he was used to navigating. He was mind-weary and soul-embattled.

On a whim he took an unmarked turnoff he’d always ignored because it was out of his way, never considering that perhaps it was the out-of-the-way stuff that held the most beauty and wonder. His life replete with ignored things. His own humanity, for one. Also, that thing that talked in the back of his preferred thoughts like some backstage voice that wasn’t written into the script but insisted on having a say, even if no one listened. This time he would listen.

He came to a street where the trees looked weary, shot through with ennui. No other vehicles nor movement. A tree isn’t a tree if no one’s there to see.

He parked and walked into some kind of market square, empty except for one or two souls unremarkable in the distance. There was an alcove or outdoor lobby cut into the side of this and he walked in. No one there. The shadowed stone echoed even with his small footstep. The sound of abandonment. But no graffiti or obvious rot. To his left, ensconced into the wall, some kind of kiosk. Approaching it he looked at the screen and the keypad below it. Screen was dark, keypad triggered nothing.

He walked back out and farther into a wide-open space of uncertain purpose. An old pond with a fountain that had gone dry, made of the same bland stone as the rest. Vast concrete yard more vacuum than anything else. Here and there weathered signs that read: Nurses needed Teachers needed Cooks needed Bus Drivers needed Daycare Workers needed Harvest Workers needed Mental Health Providers needed, Cops needed.

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There was motion and sound to his left and he turned to see a caravan of curious figures parading from a wide paved walkway that fed back into a stand of trees that seemed to be quite alive. Gradually these motleys filled the yard and set up an instantaneous carnival or some such. Hawkers pulling wagons of wares, someone juggling, a bearded conehead walking deftly on his hands, smiling upside down. Children roaming aimlessly, laughing at things as if on cue. Music from somewhere made on cheap string instruments and tin horns, thin music of medieval peasants maybe, meant to be forgotten tomorrow.

He turned again to see three women atop a platform hastily erected and wearing sheets wound haphazardly around their frames, looking for all the world like puppet theater fertility goddesses, and one of them – a big-figured gal – lost the top of her cover and a pendulous ash-colored breast flopped and jiggled as they danced an improvised jig.

He turned away, partly in disgust but mostly in surprise. Another moment of witnessing this entire spectacle and it occurred to him that the world had maybe shifted on its axis and he hadn’t seen it coming.

He was back in his car before he was aware of it. He turned a tight U and gunned the engine and as he drove away he took a deep breath and thought: well, you never know until you try.

number 12 chair

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

She was standing at the kitchen sink, domestically engaged in a general way. Maybe washing dishes or wiping down the counter. But she stood on a stool because she wasn’t yet tall enough without it. She had a sufficiently busy, responsible air about her, as if she’d maybe been put in charge of the place.

“My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair,” she said matter-of-factly. “But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Had we been discussing number 12 chairs? What is a number 12 chair? It sounds like an institutional category, maybe something in school of which I’d been blissfully ignorant in my youth.

“What size chair do you use?” I would ask.

“A number 10,” she would reply. “My sister, if she were of average size for her age, would need a size 12. She’s four inches taller and 3.5 inches wider in the hips than anyone in her class. And, of course, ten degrees more beautiful.”

“How old is your sister?”

“Older than me.”


“Anyhow, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Or had she been responding to an observation I’d made about her sister?

“How is your sister doing?” I would ask.

“She’s reasonably well if you don’t think about her condition.”

“What is her condition?”

“Chronic depression, secondary to unresolved issues with our late grandfather, who molested her as a toddler, always while seated in his number 12 chair.”

“That bastard.”

“Indeed. Upon his death she transferred her righteous indignation to the chair in which he’d sat, intent on posthumously neutralizing a domestic terrorist. One day she simply picked up a five-pound maul and put it out of its misery.

“But not hers?”

“Suffice it to say, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

In my mind, for all her diminutive stature and use of an aid, she is taller than me. I am looking up at her. This is curious, as it accentuates the advanced maturity of her age, her status as a leading figure in her demographic – if that’s not putting it too clinically. It serves to illustrate the importance of “sitting under” someone, of listening to her words. Which is to say, listening to her.

Perhaps we’d been on the subject of furniture in general.

“I think number 12 chairs are the most comfortable ever contrived by man,” I would say.

“Or woman,” she would reply.

“Touché. Do you like them?”

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“Number 12’s? Of course. They are both elegant and sufficiently functional.”

“Well, they are chairs, after all.”

“Nothing is that simple, alas. My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“She’s irrationally afraid of them. The doctor says it’s idiopathic.”

“Sorry to hear it. Perhaps a shrink is in order.”

“She won’t hear of it. I’ve tried.”

“What a thing to live with.”

“But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

All of this from a random firing of synapses in that mysterious transition between unconscious napping and swimming back up to the surface of consciousness. I’ve experienced all kinds of curious things fly through my head during this brief phase. Snatches of melody; bursts of light like fireworks or lightning; someone yelling my name.

This time, a half-developed polaroid snapshot and this girl’s voice and for heaven’s sake I’ve no idea where it comes from:

My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.