First, the results: It was nighttime, warm, and I was working as a PA for a production of a live concert. Many of the other grunts were people I knew, Sara included. Some PG-13 shenanigans took place, but unfortunately I can’t recall the details. Suddenly I’m aware that a bunch of my friends have just shown up. A man reaches out to grab my hand from his perch on the top of an old wine barrel. He has a thick, bushy dark brown beard, but I remember his eyes well. It’s my old friend Eustis Pennington Whiteside, III, a college friend I always admired who was into Mozart and the Crusades and Fairport Convention and a bunch of other really cool interesting shit back in the day. I had hoped to see him at the wedding I recently attended in Chapel Hill, but he was a much-missed no-show.
Next thing I know all the reception from that wedding is there, milling around. The groom, Brian, and my freshman year roommate, Norbou (named after his parents’ Himalayan sherpa). I hear a voice calling me on the walkie telling me the director is asking where I am. I try to stall by crouching near the ground and covering my face with a black/white Yasser Arafat-style Palestinian turban. Suddenly I’m completely undressed save for a pair of bright blue American Apparel skivvies. And the band begins to play…
So much for my great experiment.
I went to bed Wednesday night, funneled by drink to the shores of dream, convinced the review I couldn’t write the night before would instead be transmitted via Morpheus and dictated whole to my slumbering mind. It seemed perfectly natural for an album so wildly obsessed with dreaming. Just listening to its clamoring, whimsical beauty all Wednesday evening sent my thoughts reaching jellyfish arms into so many fluid directions I couldn’t grasp anything concrete. One minute I was thinking of college days; the next of the friends new and old I’ve spent good times with this week; the next I was on a shore in some emerald-green, dewy realm looking at the sea, shriveled beneath a gentle, steady rain, dreaming of some other place of escape and enchantment.
I recalled my own failed dreams—so many of them characters in stories and scripts never made—does that make them dreams realized or failed? And I thought of my niece, Alex, and her imagination and stories. Of her telling me about the TV show she is making with her school friends. Of the dreams she is casting like a great hand-sewn net into the deep gray future. I want so much to believe in her dreams. More, even, than the ones I grown accustomed to greeting every morning.
At 34, still young with plenty of good days ahead, I have learned to live genially with my dreams. They crowd, they crow, they disagree, sometimes they sit meekly and demurely in the corner waiting to be seen, but not heard. Sometimes they look out the window for hours at a time at passing strangers with a wistful glaze and a sigh. Sometimes they refuse to eat. Sometimes they open the door and stand there in silence unsure whether to leave forever or run back to my breast. Most times we’re just old, compatible, tolerably bored friends.
My dreams exist as clearly as I exist myself. They are myself—all that I know and remember and desire to grasp. And in the midst of all that dreaming, what is left of that self I once so casually disregarded as I peered into the future? What is left but dream?
I have come to identify a turning point. The fulcrum or passage in which dreams cease to spread endlessly into the future but manifest themselves as idyllic reconstitutions of the past. Inevitably, this phenomenon started with sex. As I’ve aged I’ve tried to recall interludes and imbroglios from former days, and there has been at times an uncomfortable blur. I do not like this. I like to remember my dalliances, good, bad or indifferent. It’s like having access to your favorite syndicated television shows. It’s why you buy the DVD.
Now I try to recall a night from the deep past, a date, an assignation, a drunken stumble home from a house party. My mind begins to fill in the details—the smell of tuberose or wisteria, the damp of grass and sultry, humid air, a whiff of perfume, a bedroom, a glance for potentially deal-breaking bric-a-brac—pictures of angels, ballet slippers, ceramic figurines, etc—clothes falling, buckles hitting the floorboards, the helium thrill of new nakedness, of first glances drunken and tasted. Of contortions and grimaces, of sweaty, concentrated brows and red faces and nodding heads and a white man’s overbite. A bathroom light in the darkness, the sound of pissing, a moon-powdered silhouette finding its way back slowly or quickly to bed. The lackadaisical, unblemished openness post-coitus, the easy immodesty, two bodies joined, connected in a halo of simple grace, diminishing, departing. The fumbling goodbye, see you… next time… was fun… yeah. All of it. No, I don’t seem to recall… Have we met before? I could have sworn… I beg your pardon?!... It seems real enough. What harm is there in weaving a fine fuck of the mind?
But the pleasures of innocent imaginings give way inevitably to old hurts. Painful endings re-written with more grace, texture, elegance and poetry. Maybe even with a new outcome. Hoped for reunions that will never materialize, cast beyond the power of Fate and Time. A recollection of a kiss. of a smile brimming with love, of eyes shining as you stand beneath the heartless stars. Phantoms are nothing more than stubborn old dreams. Ghosts are the tragic lonely ones who refuse to leave, who don’t even know they’re dead. I have always tried to make welcome the ones that surround me, who find refuge in the dingy vacancies of my heart.
Welcome to the crossroads where the dreams of sleep and the conscious waking dream collide in a fugue of memory and desire. Days pass ever more quickly in its cloud of substantive dust. We shake with its low-grade current like a stingray trapped in the shallows. An electric pulse fading faintly in blue water. In myth, dreams begin and end in the water, in the river of time and the limitless creation. The river Lethe flowed into the Underworld, and arrivals drank of it to forget their earthly life. The dream of forgetting. The most poignant dream of all. And the most powerful. One must forget in order to be remade. The dream and the dreamer dissolved together, fused, reformed as one. Into this state we are born, we are born into our dreams. What need, then, for new dreams at all?
As I said before, Poi dog Pondering is an album about dreams, an album obsessed in its winsome way with them, wrapping them in the textured, beguiling gowns of "world music." The word "dream" appears in some variation in every song—at least on Side A. There very well may be a good song on Side B (and I know good and well there is) but I can’t tell you. I can’t ever seem to get beyond “Sound of Water,” which submerges the sound and vison so deeply in the waters of dream that one could fall into a reverie of voices and jungle drums and never recover. Or at least find oneself on the couch at 8 in the morning with vague thoughts of rest and breakfast, trying to recall the splintering images of the night before, the fading images that reflect onself.
POI DOG PONDERING POI DOG PONDERING, 1989, Columbia Records