Monday, January 14, 2013

"In the God's Dreams," James Laughlin

"In the God's Dreams"
(James Laughlin)
Am I a character in the dreams
of the god Hermes the messenger?   
Certainly many of my dreams   
have nothing to do with the   
common life around me. There   
are never any automobiles or   
airplanes in them. These   
dreams belong to an age in   
the distant past, to a time   
perhaps when nothing was   
written down, to the
time of memory.

I chose Hermes not out of   
vanity but because from what   
I’ve read about him he had a   
pretty good time, was not   
just a drunkard on Olympus.   
In his traipsings delivering   
divine messages he must have   
met some pretty girls who   
gave him pleasure. We know   
that he invented the lyre   
for the benefit of poets,   
and Lucian relates in his   
Dialogues of the Dead that   
he was the god of sleep
and dreams.

My dreams are not frightening,   
they are not nightmares. But   
their irrationality puzzles
me. What is Hermes trying to
tell me? Is he playing a game   
with me? Last Monday night   
I dreamt about a school for   
young children who had heads   
but no bodies. Last night it   
was a cow that was galloping   
in our meadow like a horse.   
Another night, and this one   
was a bit scary, I swam across   
the lake with my head under   
water, I didn’t have to breathe air.

What is the message of these   
dreams? Into what kind of world   
is Hermes leading me? It’s not   
the world described daily in the   
New York Times. A world of   
shadows? A kind of levitation?

How can I pray to Hermes to lay   
off these senseless fantasies,
tell him that I want real dreams   
such as my shrink can explicate.

I’ve looked up lustration in
the dictionary. Its definition
is not encouraging: “a prefatory   
ceremony, performed as a preliminary   
to entering a holy place.” That’s
too impersonal. I want a man-to-man   
talk with Hermes, telling him to   
stop infesting my nights with
his nonsense.

"In the God's Dreams" by James Laughlin appeared in his 1996 collection Poems New and Selected. Laughlin was the founder of New Directions Press, and early on published writers as varied as William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Miller, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings, as well as Nabokov, Kafka, Borges and Hesse. He suffered from depression, as did other members of his family; "Experience of Blood" is a short poem about the suicide of his son. Since Laughlin's death at 83 in 1997 a series of his letters to Thomas Merton, Delmore Schwartz, and others has been published. One of Laughlin's most anthologized works is "Step on His Head", a poem about his relationship with his children: Let's step on daddy's head shout / the children my dear children as / we walk in the country on a sunny / summer day ...

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