I am fascinated by dreams, and I am fascinated in a different way by people who say they never remember their dreams, or who are dismissive of dreams in general. This poem is about dreams in a literal sense, and fantasy and imagination in a broader sense. Reading it now, I'm sorry I made it so even-handed. The father is reality divorced from imagination, so I felt compelled to make Elizabeth imagination divorced from reality. (Which only really comes through when she describes the world of others as 'the place of stone'.) If I was writing it again, I would not be so even-handed; I would favour Elizabeth even more than I do here. I was infatuated with the idea of objectivity at this time.
Funny how things come around in cycles. I wrote this in 2004, and dreams and imagination were obviously on my mind. Only very recently-- within a matter of weeks-- I have found myself much preoccupied by dreams, and by a conviction that dreams play a much bigger part in our perception of reality than we usually assume.
Why does she tell him them, every day?
And what on earth is he meant to say?
In forty-five years-- much more, it seems--
Not once has he spoken about his dreams
If he has them at all; for they fade away
And disappear in the light of day.
His daughter stares into the misty street
And butters toast that she will not eat.
A convent of nuns that must feed on blood;
He wonders how that should be understand.
She had no nuns at the private school;
No fairy tales, was his golden rule.
No stories of angels to fill her head
Or telling her dead people weren't dead.
No men in robes when her mother died;
The only father who never lied.
But nothing is true where nothing is lies
And nothing can happen behind closed eyes.
He looks at that mild face, that auburn hair,
And wonders if madness is hiding there.
Those soft blue eyes, and that soft red blush,
A tender flower that the world will crush.
Elizabeth looked in her father's eyes
So stony grey and so worldly wise
And thought about offices full of men
Who lived there lives in the there-and-then
Their faces touched with a deep regret
For something they couldn't quite forget
But gone forever. Would she go, too,
To that cold world of the real and true?
The kitchen filled with a gentle dread;
She was already drifting where all life led.
From the garden that every soul calls its own
To the world of others, the place of stone.
She hugged her knees to her body's heat
And gazed back out at the misty street.
Why did they fear what doesn't exist?
The world is beautiful, seen through mist.
Every Child Knows (2002/3)
Every child knows that the smile of a clown
Hides a deadlier threat than the darkest frown;
And their maniac laughter, unnatural tones
All speak to a dread that is bred in the bones;
The skull-white face and the blood-red hair
Speak of fun more cruel than the fun of the fair;
For every child knows, in his inmost heart,
That laughter and pain cannot live apart;
And an infant sees what his elders miss,
That the sight of blood is primeval bliss.
For the smile of a crown is a rictus grin
That wallows in man's wild tract of sin.
Fellow Travellers (2002/3)
I thought this was brilliant when I wrote it. It seems less impressive now. It grew out of the realisation that the one sight nobody can ever really see is their own face when they are asleep. It's not autobiographical in any way.
You lie back dreaming as these dream-like scenes fly past
That are as old to you as they are strange to me.
Your perfect eyes have seen them all, and stay shut fast
And still they miss the single thing they'll never see.
You'd never dream I love to watch you dwell in dreams
Dreams that are sweet to you as mine are sore to me;
But, out of all the sights with which your tired thought teems,
I know too well the single face you'll never see.
I could shake fists at life or take the gods to task,
But one thing that is kept from you is left to me.
These hours to gaze upon that alabaster mask
Your sleeping face, the single thing you'll never see.