Half an hour ago I’m sprawled on the bed half-dressed, in the corduroy arms of an instant sleep that came on so fast and so weary that it could not be denied. I was mucking around at my desk when the gravity hit. In moments I am asleep, so quickly there is no time to find a comfortable position. Instead I spread out like a double arrowhead, like a Blair Witch stick man figure, face down.
I’m a peaceful sleeper. When I won’t sleep I usually know it, so I can just get up and not waste time shifting and tossing. Normally I fade off a little slowly but in comfort, which sucks a bit because if you snore I’ll hear it. I’ll wake up in the same position. I steal the covers at the start of the night, but if I haven’t got ‘em by the time I hit REM then you’re safe until morning (when I will reclaim whatever you may have snatched while I was out). And I don’t have bad dreams; or if I do, for the most part I don’t bother remembering them.
There are two — I know there have been others, actually, but the others fade fast, pulling in their holes behind them, traceless.
One is from my young childhood, a memory that feels original, almost preverbal. There isn’t much of it left, just the glimpse of preschool inconstant immediate logic and a snatch of image more like a child’s drawing than like a dream. The land is dark, a featureless clumpy purple-brown sprawl, the color of closed eyes. It buzzes, or it’s a brown that might buzz, or it buzzes in the eyes. It is as flat and as deep as construction paper. Across the land drift bright pastel shapes of wolves. The wolves are identical, boxy with jagged jaws snouting out of 2-D bodies under a V — or is it an M? — of crude triangle ears. Their bodies don’t articulate, they aren’t animated. They are like shadow puppets, drifting relentlessly from left to right. There is nothing to stop them, and they bay from their frozen pastel-neon mouths. There is a pink one, a yellow one, and one brown one that is hard to see against the flat land. The brown one pulses as it moves. I think I woke up screaming. I was probably five.
The other is from my late 20′s. I am subletting on Edgar Allen Poe Street on the Upper West Side, and have just broken up with Roberta after a stay in Iowa. While I am out in Ames with her I find spoor of what she hid well during our summer together in the City — her pathological lying, her doctrinal inability to say the words “I’m sorry,” her alcoholism, her grotesque infidelities, which lead back inexorably to more pathological lies, etc. etc. ad naus. There is no point fighting it through in the frigid Iowa winter, so we wait until landing back in New York to strip it all down and have it all out.
The next day, back up at EAPoe, I wake sweaty and sputtering from a black afternoon nap and a twister dream with two dark images and, so far as I remember, no narrative, and no narrative necessary. There is a shabby and badly hung wooden door, beyond which a long stairway stretches down into deep earth. And a room of people who tear off their mask faces and are lizards beneath, flat-eyed, with scaled lips drawn thinly over small remorseless teeth.
Between these two points, a quarter century of blank nights, or of delicious imaginings: cities strung with dark bridges and mysterious cascading water, long journeys, magic connections. Tiny skipping-stone narratives of happy life, long beloved days, a rambling house which is all my homes joined into one, with still and dusty train tracks in the basement — a terminal, not a station — and attics and hallways full of cupboards, drawers, and passage. The ziggurat pyramid city, water rushing down from the peak; you and I, digging in the garden planting music instead of flowers. Once I cycled down a coast road strobed with cliffside mountain tunnels and rode the elevator high into a tower building to watch turtles flock down the river and fetch up in colonies on the far side of the delta.
Tonight the dream isn’t good or bad. It’s paralyzing. I’ve come in midway along the story and I’m catching up. It’s a small party, at your house, but you are not there. I am waiting for you. There is a child there, a little girl, in distress. She needs to pee. She needs to walk but cannot move. She needs to speak but has nothing simple to say, and she is too uncertain for small talk; her parents are there, but they are not.
I know I need to wake up, but I am trapped here — I am a guest, not an architect. The child grapples, snatches, as if drowning. I’ve never been between sleep and waking this way, reeling in line and yanking as if to pull myself up out of a current. Her arms are on me, dragging back in ways that are as deliberate as they are panicked, and she is behind me now, or not precisely behind but backed off a step in a direction that I can’t see. Her flailing is a mauling now, directed and full of purpose, and I can hear her breath sucking in, fast and wet. Her arms are ropy and pliant, muscular but without anchor, and you mean to keep me here, in this indistinct gasping place.