After a Long Illness
Dreamed summer 1990? by Nicholas Christopher
A man lighter than air enters
He pours himself a glass of water
Opening a window, he reels in
He reclines on the bed with a book
dropped through the mail slot,
and lets out a kite on a long string.
I can think of no other poem of mine that so closely follows one of my recollected dreams. I wrote the poem several days after having the dream, the summer night I arrived at the westemmost Hawaiian island of Kaua'i after a fifteen-hour journey, on three different airplanes, from New York City. I usually sleep five to seven hours, but this particular night, exhausted and exhilarated, and after a midnight swim in the ocean, I slept deeply, without interruption, for ten hours. This poem, I should add, emerged very cleanly in early drafts and went through fewer revisions than the majority of my poems, as if much of the work on it had already been done in my head.
Nicholas Christopher is a poet and novelist living in New York. I stumbled on After a Long Illness in Roderick Townley's fascinating Night Errands (1998, University of Pittsburgh Press), a collection of essays by poets on the role dreams play in their poetry.
I like how the poem enhances the dream's motif of transparency (the glass house, the see-through raincoat, the apparently see-through servants) by being that transparent itself. Clear as glass, silent and simple... and still quite mysterious.
Or is it? The mood's so dreamy-compelling! But step back and see the obvious. Glass house (control towers?), levitation, radio, birds, vapor trails--and the clincher, those inedible sandwiches! Those alone prove the dream's about airlines, right? We treat jet travel as an ordeal, as
the flame-sword angel at the gate
of holiday Eden! And yet
his dream refinds the alchemy of flight:
around the world in fifteen hours,
to swim at last in a tropical sea,
clean sheets, and the slow milk of sleep.
the dream reburnishes these
reminds us that no other age
achieved this glass-milk-radio bliss
that we battered travelers, blasé, diss.
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