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After a Long Illness

Dreamed summer 1990? by Nicholas Christopher

A man lighter than air enters
the glass house, switches on
every lamp, and turns the radio
to a station broadcasting
the sound of birds' wings flapping
skyward over a deep lake at dawn.

He pours himself a glass of water
from a tall pitcher on which
a crane, drinking from a pitcher,
has been etched in the enamel.
He makes a sandwich of brightly colored
pieces of paper and slices it in half.

Opening a window, he reels in
a clothesline with two billowing
sheets, white as ocean clouds,
and lays them on a bed so high
he would need a ladder to reach it
were he not lighter than air.

He reclines on the bed with a book
of photographs of birds in flight
and gazes up through the glass room
at.the full moon and the stars.
In the morning, a quart of milk
is left at the door, a letter is

dropped through the mail slot,
the lawn is mowed and the shrubs
trimmed, but there is no one home.
A woman arrives in a see-through
raincoat, switches off the lamps
and the radio, climbs to the roof,

and lets out a kite on a long string.
Winding the string in hours later,
she finds it attached, not to the kite,
but to a man who is fast asleep,
trailing vapors, his arms folded
across his chest like wings.

I can think of no other poem of mine that so closely follows one of my recollected dreams. I wrote the poem several days after having the dream, the summer night I arrived at the westemmost Hawaiian island of Kaua'i after a fifteen-hour journey, on three different airplanes, from New York City. I usually sleep five to seven hours, but this particular night, exhausted and exhilarated, and after a midnight swim in the ocean, I slept deeply, without interruption, for ten hours. This poem, I should add, emerged very cleanly in early drafts and went through fewer revisions than the majority of my poems, as if much of the work on it had already been done in my head.

--Nicholas Christopher--

Nicholas Christopher is a poet and novelist living in New York. I stumbled on After a Long Illness in Roderick Townley's fascinating Night Errands (1998, University of Pittsburgh Press), a collection of essays by poets on the role dreams play in their poetry.

I like how the poem enhances the dream's motif of transparency (the glass house, the see-through raincoat, the apparently see-through servants) by being that transparent itself. Clear as glass, silent and simple... and still quite mysterious.

Or is it? The mood's so dreamy-compelling! But step back and see the obvious. Glass house (control towers?), levitation, radio, birds, vapor trails--and the clincher, those inedible sandwiches! Those alone prove the dream's about airlines, right? We treat jet travel as an ordeal, as

the flame-sword angel at the gate
of holiday Eden! And yet
his dream refinds the alchemy of flight:
around the world in fifteen hours,
to swim at last in a tropical sea,
clean sheets, and the slow milk of sleep.
the dream reburnishes these
mundaned wonders:
reminds us that no other age
achieved this glass-milk-radio bliss
that we battered travelers, blasé, diss.

      --Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: dream poems - flying dreams - kites - light - surrealism - planes - Wayan flies to Kauai, swims, has eerie dreams: Haena Twilit Cove

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