Thursday, 20 August 2009

Word Tripper

My men like satyrs grazing on the lawns
Shall with their goat-feet dance an antic hay.
Sometimes a lovely boy in Dian's shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive tree
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring.

Christopher Marlowe. (Edward II. Act I, Scene I)

I HAVE REOCCURRING DREAMS. Rather, I have dreams in which I am visited by a childhood friend who I last saw in person in August of 1970. And in August of 1970 we had been out of touch for some years, at least five, as Bryan had moved away from Bermuda, as had I for a time, each in opposite directions. But that August, thirty-nine years ago this week, Bryan celebrated his twenty-first birthday, and came to Bermuda to throw a party on his parents' lawn. I was invited; I would not be twenty-one till November, Bryan was a few months older than I was. We had started kindergarten together, became fast friends, and, small as we were, those being different times, we thought nothing of walking the beaches and climbing over the dunes along Bermuda's South Shore.

The party was quite a big one, a huge ring of chairs under a Poinciana tree, a barbecue and tables with food nearer the house.

Bryan was by then working for a Canadian airline. He would actually be on board an aeroplane that made a crash landing a few years later and was badly injured. In 1970 many of Bryan's colleagues at the airline had flown in to Bermuda for his party. Other guests were family and school friends. We were a pretty lively group. Bryan looked young; he was young, only twenty-one. I never saw him again, not in person, and he was dead less than fifteen years later. He has been dead twenty-five years. AIDS.

And in my reoccurring dreams, Bryan walks through, still twenty-one, never speaking, though we recognise each other, and he always continues, alone, moving away, till I am watching only his back. He passed through the other night and I remembered it when I woke. Still twenty-one, bright and happy. He has no marks from the aeroplane crash of his later twenties, no marks of the disease that killed him when he was about thirty-four. I know of these injuries, these marks and scars, but I do not place them on his body as I dream; he is, rather, always in his prime. Perhaps Bryan's visits have nothing to do with what I am, what I do, but are honest representations. Night tripper.

When I read, which is nearly always in the daytime, if not always in the daylight hours (precious few of them in the winter up here), I usually recline on my sofa with Cailean alongside me. If I look over the top of the book I am reading I am facing one of the two windows in my front room, I'm facing the south. Outside the window, clearly visible if it's daylight, is a row of terraced houses, two storeys high. In the winter the sun is so low in the sky to the south that for months no direct sunlight reaches my flat, my windows, my courtyard, the sun is behind the opposite terrace. At the moment the sun scoots above the roofline and there is still a pool of light on my carpet for part of the day. Cailean will sometimes give up the sofa and stretch out in the sunshine. It cannot be particularly warm, but it's the thought that counts.

We had a rather splendid start to summer this year, and then July returned to form and we were in wettest ever days. August has struggled, a fair bit of rain to keep the locals and visitors on the hop. But most days have featured some bright sun, especially in early morning and late afternoon. Midday is dodgy. It is just after noon as I write this and we have light rain and completely cloudy skies, but I dried laundry outside earlier.

If I am reading on the sofa and the light dims outside as the clouds move in, I switch on a brass standing lamp behind me. A low setting with an energy-efficient, eco-friendly bulb. I can still see the terrace across the street through my window, though the colours and shadows change wonderfully as the light changes. The rough stones seem to age as they darken, and the terrace becomes more massive somehow, as if it was some great dam holding back the sunny weather to the south.

The other day we had an unusually heavy rainstorm. Not that English drizzle, but a deluge equal to some I have seen in Bermuda. We can get flash-flooding in such downpours. I happened to be on the sofa reading, and the changing light outside distracted me for a moment. I looked out and up and the rain pouring down the slate roof of the opposite terrace, towards me, had, in the light, become a molten thing. Together the rain and the slick slates had gained such volume and depth that it was as if a silvery mirror-like substance was rolling down the roof and overflowing from the gutters along the edge.

The building itself was approaching blackness, the chimneys thrusting towards a steely sky, and rain in the air above the road between my flat and the terrace. More rain ran down my window glass. The world was melting!

I remembered Aldous Huxley writing about solids flowing in The Doors of Perception. Huxley, of course, used mescaline and LSD to bring that on. I peered through those same doors. But on an August afternoon in 2009 the flow came without preparation, without warning. One just had to be aware, to look up. Day tripper.

I had a most curious dream the other night, unlike any that I've had before. It was brief, startling, and beautiful and I woke and wrote a little about it in case I might forget some detail. It happens that it is still incredibly clear.

In my dream I received a hand-written book, a kind of diary, with original painted illustrations. The book arrived in the post with no letter or explanation. The diary was not complete; rather it was a portion well into the period it was covering. Each page was numbered, the letters C/F and a number in sequence, which I understood to mean carried forward and the new page number. The handwriting was not familiar, and it was written in cramped longhand in gold-coloured ink. In the dream I puzzled over page C/F 2181 and wondered if a relative might have written the book.

Inside the front cover of the book was a book-plate showing a picture of a Buddha, and the words Uncle Eldridge. No first names.

That was interesting enough, but the dream ended with me skipping through the book's pages till I came across a painting of an aerial view of an island covered in palm trees, exquisite white-sand beaches meeting blue, blue seas. And as I looked at the picture of the island I realised that it had come to life, I was actually above the place, and brilliantly-coloured birds were flying up out of the palm trees below me.

And I can still relive that rather lovely dreamscape just by thinking about it. I first saw it as a night tripper, and now I'm day tripping there.

I love words; I always hope that one day I might attach several to one another and get something outstanding. In the meantime, I enjoy being somewhat overcome by what I read, perhaps a little afraid of the hold words can have on me. I actually weep at some of the words I read, they are so damn real, powerful.

Aren't Marlowe's lines, quoted above, extraordinary? He gave them to Piers Gaveston in Edward II. They tell us nearly all we need to know about Gaveston, and then some. Marlowe did not tell us how tall Gaveston was, or whether he wore a beard, and what colour his hair was. Instead he gave us Gaveston's dream. These words might even tell us something about Marlowe himself, a dream within a dream. All I could think, first reading them, was: Dear God!

Word tripper.

1 comment:

suz said...

oh rolph, hermes must love you. i think words love you just as much as you love them. i was talking to richard last night, he read me a passage that we both thought was fantastic, and we were talking about how evocative and sensual words are, and how bad we hills are at using them in a powerful minimalist fashion.
that's why i adore your blog, not just because i adore you and love to read your musings and see what you and cailean are up to, but because i'm fascinated by the way you dance with words. it's like watching a wonderful dressage performance, the rider not mastering the horse but synchronized with it.
you're like a verbal centaur.