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He Saw,
or,
The Dream

Dreamed c.1983 by Jeffery Beam

They found him in the kitchen
The full moon
beside him with her braided hair
an empty kettle
and four stones in a semicircle
on the table

They found a blue word on his tongue
onions in the basket with compasses ready
the frail canopy his blood
bathing his hands
his ten fingers crimped pages
in a book
yellowed
the compasses pointing True North

They found him with my face
and your lips at
the base of his jaw
They found him singing an old song
from the country of crones
about the woods he walked in
when he was young and downy
before he saw

Commentary

This poem began as a nightmare in which a group of people, myself included, run into my kitchen to find myself-as-other in the described state. Needless to say, it was frightening, and even in the dream I didn't know whether the myself-as-other was dead or alive, a victim of murder, suicide, or some ghastly form of enlightenment after "he saw."

The dream contained three selves: my consciousness outside the dream (a frequent experience for me), myself in the dream, and the myself-as-other. This distortion of identity and relationship was the most unsettling, but oddly enough, the most relaxed part of the experience. The visual images were the most physically horrifying.

I wonder if one of the common qualities of nightmare or any form of horror might be the lack of secure information we receive. What is the "blue word"? Why the compasses? What about the stones?

After working with the dream I found these images to contain all sorts of meaning concerning my poetry and recent changes in my life. It seems to make sense in the poem after making friends with the nightmare. Fear comes from the unknown, the unexpected and our lack of power in face of it. Once recognizing myself in every part of the dream, my personal victory was won, and I could begin the creative experience of the poem.

I have tried to remain honest to the dream. All the images in the poem belong to it completely. The most frightening aspect of the nightmare was seeing myself so trapped: the "myself" had no power over, or for, the me-as-other. I recognized myself but there was no history, no biography held commonly between us. The nightmare was a masque, a dark theatrical experience of distorted black humor.

SOURCE: Dreamworks: an Interdisciplinary Quarterly (v.3, no.4, 1983-84, p.249-50 under title "The Dream")

Editor's Note

I agree with Beam that the worst stress of all isn't scary facts but a lack of facts; if you can't tell what's wrong, you can't fix it. In one of my worst nightmares ever, it was awful to be hunted by armed men; to see my sister die, to be disbelieved later; but the worst was not knowing if her death was suicide or murder, and being helpless to find out.

Beam's strategy makes sense. Where the whole seems hopeless, details are a useful place to start. If banging your head on the wall doesn't help, chip at the edges. References to day experiences can suggest what the problem is. Pulling back to the simplest truth help too; he's split, and can't fix things till he knows what's going on. General, yes, but it's the dream's foundation. Facing that has the virtue (which Freudian, Jungian and even behavioral approaches to nightmares all lack) of making it obvious that the appropriate action is not action at all--it's fact-finding.

I'd even argue the dream hints, in its last line, that too-quick insight could lead to shock or paralyzing guilt. So: cautious fact-finding. And expect a long haul!

--Chris Wayan



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