Wednesday, October 6, 2010

17. Virgil dreams & } smoke.

Kelly Spitzer selected story from Color Plates and interviewed me for Issue 29 of SmokeLong. The interview took time: I answered the first question on the west coast and the last on the east. Fair enough. I like the questions. For instance, she asked what my weirdest childhood memory was and after some hemming and hawing, I replied:

“In early November, which is by far the eeriest time of the year—at least in New England—I was in the woods near my house—a strictly forbidden locale. I was, uh, seven? I was pretty deep in the woods and I took a path I hadn't taken before. It was probably about three in the afternoon—the sun already a little low in the sky. From somewhere off the path I heard a grunt. This scared the living daylights out of me, I was sure it was a wild boar—not likely, but, you know, I was seven. I didn't want to run away. I knew from experience that dogs tended to chase me when I ran, so I kind of backed up for a while, took every step painfully slow. Somehow, I managed to walk a loop, and ended up off the path at the mouth of a huge pit. I kid you not. I peered over the edge. The low light lit just a crescent of the bottom of the pit. It was, I thought (remember I was seven, so who knows), about fifteen feet deep. And I heard another grunt. Oh God it was so loud, Kelly! I saw a big animal, uh, kind of bumble through that crescent of light and I ran. I crashed through brush and branches, until I found my way to the path and finally to my little neighborhood. By the time I got home I was wheezing pretty hard and it took my worried mother a little while to get the story from me. She was mad, of course, that I'd been in the woods, but not madder than she was a) glad I was home and b) troubled that there was a large animal in a pit in the woods behind her house.

I hope this isn't a let down but there really isn't much else to the story. I guess Mom called the police or animal control or something. I eventually found the path again—foolish curiosity. It was full-on winter by then and the ground was covered with snow. A little distance off the path I found a frozen pool. I poked a branch through the ice. It wasn't deep, a few inches, all that remained of a vernal pond, probably. I don't know if that was the spot. I told my buddy Brian about it and we believed fervently that there was a beast tunneling in the woods behind my house and then we got to junior high and didn't believe anymore (and didn't hang out anymore, either).”

Truthfully, I’m not sure that’s the weirdest story from my childhood. I mean, childhood is weird, man.

Tomorrow, John Cotter and I head west to Iowa City, where we’ll read at Prairie Lights; from there we travel to Northfield, Minnesota, to Minneapolis, and finally Milwaukee. Here, John provides a few more details.

To Virgil: Toward the end of The Aeneid is a simile that caught my eye: “Just as in dreams when the night-swoon of sleep/ Weighs on our eyes, it seems we try in vein/ To keep running, try with all our might,/But in the midst of effort faint and fail;/ Our tongue is powerless, familiar strength/ Will not hold up the body, not a sound/ Or word will come: just so with Turnus now….” (Fitzgerald trans.)

We’ve all had this dream. Running from a threat, we’re mired in dream-tar. Virgil wrote about that dream 2,030 years ago (give or take), and that dream was common enough then for Virgil to use it to explain the way Turnus’ moved while fighting Aeneas! When our sleeping selves calls up that imagery, we’re tapping into something ancient. Perhaps what chases us in the dream has changed. Maybe not. We wake from the dream and a spear pins us to the ground.

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