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My Mother's Closet

dreamed around 2000 by Rachel Hadas; provoking a 2008/9/16 dream by Chris Wayan
When we rummage through
the wardrobes of the dead,
are we not combining
reunion, disguise, and hiding place?
All these are the specialties of dreams.

Into--no, out of my mother's closet
I awoke from a dream of Hamlet.
I was cast as Hamlet, hero, prince--
no contradiction that I was a woman
and still alive. Had the tragedy
turned inside out into a comedy?
I'd gone away toward the end
and was trying to return in secret
as Hamlet does from shipboard in Act IV.
There had to be, then, one more act to come.
Nevertheless I'd managed to get home,
but whether in order to ransack her closet
for a disguise or lie low there awhile
or simply visit--all these motivations
were packed into a single narrow space.

The Queen dies at the end, which wasn't yet.
My mother's dead, although not in the dream.

Queen in the dreamplay. Loved me.
Anxious about me in the dangerous court,
anxious about my departure,
anxious about my clandestine return,
as mothers are, and helpless, too, to help me,
as mothers are. I woke up struggling,
my right, my writing hand, my whole right arm
clenched and bent painfully under the pillow.
Had I been taking ghost dictation?

Or into what improbable disguises
had I been attempting to insert
my alarmingly clumsy and recalcitrant body?
Cumbersome petticoats, tight pointed shoes,
layer upon layer of dresses. In the closet
were crammed not a queen's robes but an old lady's--
lumpy white cardigan, green-flowered dress--
hanging there empty, like my mother's clothes
when I and my sister opened her closet door
and hurriedly chose things for her to wear.
Helping her get dressed felt strange, belated.
Her closetful would soon, as we both knew,
be given away and kept at the same time,
relegated to the realm of dream.


Going through what one's mother no longer needs
to see what fits and simply to take stock
is what women growing older do.
And not just women, and not clothes alone.
"Into my grave I'll wear that Yes of theirs,"
wrote J. of his acquired Greek nod (our headshake).
Did my mother wear Yes to the grave?
Does Hamlet? How she loved the play. Will I?
The dream, not having reached Act V, won't say,
although the dream-script also writes the waking day.
Nights I go to my temporary grave
bathed in the retrospective tide of books
and in the prospective tide of dreams--
the tide of books goes out, the tide of dreams comes in--
grateful for having seen and read and seen
Hamlet over and over
even in the black box of my skull.
Courage! The lights go down
and each night's theater
flowers into color, motion, sound,
the clenched fist of the dreamer
vainly struggling to take it down.
The closet full of costumes
opened, but only to the sleeper's eye,
just as the dreamplay opened out and out
by folding inward, taking up no space.
Both play and closet
were bigger on the inside than the outside.
The closet was in the play
but the play was in the closet.
Think of Lucy fumbling among fur coats
in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
who finds herself abruptly not in a musty wardrobe
in an abandoned room in the countryside in wartime
but in a frozen forest at night in a magic country.
Yet between the trees she can still just make out
the wardrobe's open door and through it daylight.
It was as I was fingering my mother's
unqueenly sweaters, shirtwaists, jerseys, pants
that the stage lights failed and I found myself
confronting daylight, my disguise half on,
home for a little, poised to leave again.
--Rachel Hadas--


Reading Rachel's dream-poem had a shocking effect on me. That evening, I dreamed:

I'm a closet girl. In Queen Mother's wardrobe I try all
she kept but never wore--never quite could dare!
Zebra-striped legwarmers slide up my thighs;
a sexy floral dress too thin for this chill fall;

Add a slimwaist coat long as Hamlet's stare, and tie
it close with a bright woven belt from Nepal.
No princely sword. Except for shoes (ma feets too big!)
I've found my look--my me, not ma. But then I hear

Creaking on the roof. Again that Danish spy! I'm unsure
who runs Polonia, why she stalks me, but she's here--
and not to peer but slay. She's failed before, but we're
now in the burbs, where neighbors (good courtiers all)

See hear and say no evil. Fear spurs cunning--thump the wall
theatrically and flush the toilet here by the backstage door,
then sneak up front as her rooftread-groans head back.
Feet bare as a corpse, I slip out the front door toward

My car, hid round the corner--offstage from Elsinore.
But on the street my dread of her congeals--the very air
turns thick as drown; a bow-wave holds me back. I
can't run! In a beat, she'll see. All fours I drop

But not to knee: scuttle gymnastic, a belly-up crab
toward a closeting hedge. No, too slow, too far--
Limbs scram for traction, a flailing semaphore
as I gasp and pummel through quicksand air--

Fleeing my mother's house in struggle and fear.
Yet I crawl on--no Ophelia (that drip!) nor even poor
vacillating Rosencrantz and Whatsizname; despite
tragedy's imperatives, pressed down by atmosphere,

I'm gasping still for life. If not upright.
So I too "was a woman, and still alive." Abject,
crawling, absurd. A mother-motley, pinned to pave.
But never gave up. Never. Might that be brave?


--Chris Wayan--

Color pencil sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream of scuttling around like a crab in zebra-striped leggings and a floral dress.

NOTES IN THE MORNING

silhouette of a ninja woman on a roof


LISTS AND LINKS: more Rachel Hadas - I'm Just Not Myself Today! - gender-bent dreams - Hamlet - Shakespeare - C.S. Lewis - literary dreams - drama and theatre - dream poetry - dream moms - heirlooms - royalty - out of the closet! - clothes and fashion - role models and mentors - nightmares - hunted! - warriors - air - sabotage and resistance - frustration - perseverance - pencil dream-art - collaborative and domino-effect dreams - a follow-up fashion dream by Wayan: Sweaterpants for Christ!

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