New Poetry with Audio!
Reginald Shepherd’s fourth book, Otherhood, was released in spring 2003 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, which also published his previous three books: Some Are Drowning (1993 AWP Award); Angel, Interrupted; and Wrong. He lives in Pensacola, Florida, where the live oaks and magnolias are evergreens.
Some Dreams He Forgot
Dreams in which I realize that I'm not wearing shoes; I'm walking through fields of broken glass or sidewalks of rain, slush, or snow with bare feet, stepping carefully so as not to cut myself. My feet get dirty fast, pebbles and gravel and dead leaves cling to them. Dreams in which I'm wearing only one shoe. Dreams in which I realize I've forgotten my shoes five minutes before my flight and have to turn back for them, but I never make it anywhere near home; the airport turns into a labyrinth and I never find my way out of the maze, never make my flight.
Dreams in which I'm not wearing any pants, running my errands obliviously. Sometimes people look askance, but no one ever says anything. It must be a minor faux-pas, like passing gas in an elevator or not saying "Excuse me" when you have to brush past someone. I'm browsing in the local independent bookstore, looking through poetry and Adorno, when I realize that I've driven all the way downtown, walked blocks from my car to the store, wearing nothing but a t-shirt, naked from the waist down – I've forgotten to get dressed. The store owner is kind enough to lend me a pair of shorts, though I'm not sure if they will fit.
Dreams in which I'm trying to get somewhere that should be just around the corner, just a block ahead, but the way gets more and more convoluted. I'm running through a maze of muddy streets (sometimes without my shoes), passing Marilyn Manson talking on a cell phone and being passed by a muscular runner with a shaved head who thinks I'm racing with him, but no matter how fast I run I never arrive. I'm supposed to look at an apartment and I've forgotten the address, even forgotten the last name of the man I'm meant to meet, but it doesn't matter because I'll never find my way there anyway.
Dreams in which I'm taking the subway home, a trip I've made a dozen times, but I end up somewhere I've never been, often some barely populated semi-wasteland from which I have to find my way back to my destination on foot, it's the end of the line, or I've gotten off at the wrong stop. Dreams in which the elevated train derails miles from where I meant to go, I barely survive the crash, and have to walk home through an urban wilderness.
Dreams in which I can barely walk, my legs are so heavy and weak, as if they were made of cement or lead. I'm trying to run across a field from danger, zombies or perhaps there's a war on, but I can hardly move, and the danger's catching up, if it hasn't seen me it will soon.
Dreams in which I should be able to fly but can just barely stay aloft, and that only by intense concentration, almost scraping protruding rocks and the crowns of trees, my feet dragging sometimes on the topmost branches, on elevated patches of ground, or I barely clear the flat roofs of low buildings. Sometimes from outside it looks like soaring, I've escaped whatever trap or monster threatened me, but I always feel that I'm about to sink.
Dreams in which I should be able to breathe water but instead I drown (only one of these, actually, in which I'm saved from drowning by a talking whale).
Dreams in which the doors won't lock or even close properly, the door suddenly shrinks so it's smaller than the frame, the dead bolt becomes a simple hook, and something dangerous is coming, a zombie, werewolf, vampire, or simply a deathless serial killer. Sometimes it's something doors won't keep out anyway, some shapeless nameless evil-the featureless is always frightening.
Dreams in which an unstoppable werewolf is coming for the young; he'll kill everyone in the house if we're not turned over. Before anyone can stop me I scoop up all the young (including my Robert) and put them in my pocket – I have a shrinking ray – and then I seal us all up in the panic room, totally self-enclosed and impenetrable, with its own supplies of food and air. We'll wait the werewolf out, and ignore everyone else's screams.
Dreams in which I start seeing hard, unfamiliar faces in the door windows at my private school, furtive men in black trench coats and hats and boots. My friends start disappearing, one by one and the white students start acting strangely toward us, the black students, distant and cold. Then we're invited on a field trip, just the black kids, a special opportunity. As we're walking to the bus I see a giant hose leading to it and I know they plan to gas us. I run, but am trapped in a stairwell. A black janitor tells the commandant where I'm hiding ("You fool," I think, "They'll kill you too when you're no use to them"), but the commandant just laughs: there's no need to pursue me because the doors form an airtight seal; I'll slowly suffocate. I sit on the cement stairs with my head in my hands, and wake to the sound of his laughter echoing against the whitewashed cinderblock walls.
Dreams in which all the white people have gone away, and I'm one of the leaders of this new world, where everyone's free. Then the white men come back from outer space, we welcome them to the world we've made, but they just say "We've come to take our planet back." They conquer us, execute many, imprison many more, and suddenly we're all just servants, almost slaves, when yesterday the world was ours. I'm someone's butler or valet, I'm walking down the corridors of headquarters on an errand and I have to pee; I go into an executive men's room, which is strictly off-limits, whites only, but I can't hold it until the colored men's room. A white executive is in there, an important man, and demands to know just what I think I'm doing, "Boy, where do you think you are?" I've had enough. I smash his face into the urinal repeatedly, gouge out his eye with the flush handle, and then I'm running with blood on my shirt, hiding in the crawlspaces and climbing through the ventilation pipes. I pass rooms full of white people who could have been my friends, hear them talk and laugh like human beings, but I know that they'll betray me.
Dreams in which I'm in a burning building (how did I get there?) with Seth Green and three other young guys (ten years from now that name will mean nothing except in this poem), and we're running down the stairs to get outside before the flames consume us. We reach a huge window two or three stories tall and they all jump out through the glass into the pouring rain, but I look and think there's no way I can make that jump, so I walk out through the door, where it's not raining anymore. We sit on the grass (it's night by now) and watch the building collapse, and one of the young men explains that they're on a tour of Moravian churches-there are only three in the entire country. I say, "But there's one right there" and the dream ends.
Dreams in which I'm in the shower and suddenly realize that I should have been teaching a class for the past half a semester, I rush to the Greyhound station and by the time I get to campus it's evening, and I don't even know where the class should be meeting. Dreams in which I've forgotten to take a high school class and I have to go back for a semester. The building is a maze and I don't even know what room I'm supposed to be in; I end up in the wrong class over and over without even a notebook or a pen, or I'm wandering the halls all day until the bell rings for the end of classes. Dreams in which I have to go back to my isolated little college in Vermont to take one last class; I have two master's degrees but that doesn't matter, and I'm waiting on line for my room key again.
Dreams in which I have to return to college and I can't find my room. The dorm turns into a labyrinth in which I'm trapped, a maze in which I keep passing the same rooms over and over, never mine, the same living room and kitchen, I go up and down the endless stairs and all I want to do is lie down in the bed I've never seen, all my belongings are already in the room and they'll never be mine again.
Dreams in which I dream about my dreams, dreams which remember other dreams: the giant cafeteria in the library in the middle of the maze-like high school, all that eating and reading together. "I dreamed about this, but it's real," before I wake up.
Dreams in which the black opera singer Jessye Norman slowly promenades over an elaborate stone bridge, wearing a powder-blue gown with a jeweled headdress and an enormous train billowing behind her, singing a stately, soaring aria (along the lines of Bellini's "Casta Diva"). During the refrain an unseen chorus sings "Ah-ah, pale Gomorrah" over her extended, melismatic vocalise. She looks like some ideal version of my mother.
Dreams in which I write the perfect poem, painstakingly setting down each word, but forget it when I wake up. Dreams in which I wake up and write down the poem I've just dreamed to make sure that I won't forget it, but then I wake up again and realize that I was still dreaming. Sometimes a phrase or a line lingers in my head, and it makes no sense at all.
My sleep is jagged, has sharp edges. I end up as someone I've never been.