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The Enchanted Glass

Dreamed c. 1980 (before 1983) by Charles Gullans

I have been here a long time, and I know
This place is not a ring of hell, for cold
Familiar moonlight falls between the leaves
Of oak and aspen; and the shapes of men
That move within its tenuous dispersion
Are all familiar, too. Old memories,
They move through shadow, one by one, and each
In strict, zodiacal succession moves
Behind the other, Lover, Teacher, Friend,
And by their side a crowd of lesser shapes,
Vivid in some particular, all else
Vague presence and unrealized intent.

I have been here before. And though I know
The terror that will reoccur, that, also,
Is old as sorrow and the certainty
Of malice and betrayal at the hands
Of men that I had trusted to be true
And sure as the processions of the sky.

The darkness stirs with unformed energy,
And air shakes as their bodies shift, and alter.
True horn and antlers sprout upon their heads,
Hollow and pointed, permanent like tusks;
Or paired and branched, rough bony growth and curved,
Solid, deciduous; and crests and combs,
Hoof, hide, and scale, and shaggy pelt, harsh fur,
Heavy with dust and dew, and the stale scent
Of beasts that lie upon the earth.
Like stars,
Like constellations they divide the night,
And draw their likeness to them from the sky:

Bull, Ram, and Stag, The Goat, The Wolf, The Ox,
The Snake and Cockerel, The Bear.
They tremble,
With new perceptions and with darkened minds.

I can no longer tell you what they are
In any way precisely. They are men
From whom much has been taken and to whom
Something so terrible is grafted, they,
Lacking a category or a class,
Are adjuncts merely, not a definition.
The malice of that silence slips between
The spaces of our thought. In their passion,
The labyrinth of need, they prowl. I listen.
The brute, enormous sameness of their cry
May echo with the semblance of some speech,
But echoes merely. Distantly I hear,
Under the harsh caesuras of their breathing,
The animal contagion of the wolf,
The universal cry, I want, I want.

I was afraid. All time derided me,
As I stood, passive, waiting for the blows,
With my sight clouded, knowing they could kill,
As they had killed before. The ancient types
Repeat their journey on the zodiac
Until we understand, and know they are
The pattern of our bondage to the earth,
And to the flesh, and to our love of earth.
Yet all my strength dissolved before the choice:
I could destroy the pattern and the pain,
And I could live in the dark hermit's cave
Within the heart, in nerveless chill,
And sink to silence and to emptiness.
I, rapt and spent and furious, awoke
From cold delirium to face my shame.
I knew I had forgotten who I was,
And felt my skin crackle along my hand,
And the nails twist to weapons as my arm
Became an instrument. I drew myself up, tall
As I could reach, and struck my hand on stone
Until the sharp pain cleared my mind and eyes.
I chose to face them down, and turned to meet
Their menace and their strength. As they came at me,
The air between us glowing with intent,
I saw they, too, were sloughing alien flesh;
And, reassuming their familiar shapes,
They drifted off like fog dispersed by wind.
I sat down on a rock and told myself
This is the place we live in. All we see--
The meaning of the motions of the dead,
The moving shapes, the shadows, and the leaves--
We see by moonlight. The enchanted glass
Of being shows no necessary truth,
No certain knowledge of the way we came,
And less of where we go. The mirror depth
In which we see experience reflected
Is warped and biased to a single end.
It is perspicuous to sense alone,
Which sees a galaxy alive with fire.
It is opaque to mind, which is enmeshed
In moonlight, watery penumbra, drifts
Of shadows deeper than December snow.


Gullans never flatly says this was a dream, but it certainly feels like a recurring nightmare, and his poems that are explicitly dream-based use this sandwich structure.

Gullans claims our bodies' senses and wants tug us so hard we turn subhuman. He makes a creepy case... but I disagree. Yes, some think too little and want too much--but others deny their animal desires; ideology fuels their crimes. Was the Holocaust animality running amok, or a cold denial of feelings-- guilt, empathy, horror--in the name of the Übermensch? Is it animal passion or disdain for animality that drove the Islamic State?

Gullans says this isn't Hell but argues it is structured to make us bestial. Buddha might concur, but I'm not so sure. You can err either way--grow blind to mind and spirit, or grow deaf to feelings, body and desire. You need both sail AND keel, high and low--or the boat drifts.

--Chris Wayan

SOURCE: Under Red Skies by Charles Gullans; 1983, Robert L. Barth, Florence, Ky.

LISTS AND LINKS: recurring dreams - nightmares - animal people - shapeshifters - anger - violence - focus - asceticism and austerity - dream poems - a shorter Gullans nightmare: Traumdeutung

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