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Little Bad Dream Charm

Dreamed 2001? by Kathy Fagan

Editor's note: this poem may seem full of typos. It's not. Slow down; you'll figure them out.

We haven't found enough dreams.
We haven't dreamed enough.


I just woke up from a start afternoon nap. I
dreamed of whole time. I dreamed I woke up
lists of times. I wanted to make up, because
all my drears were nightmares. The only reason
I thank I'm awake now is that I'm steel sleepy.
I dreamed about goldfish except they were boys,
and there were hundreds of ether boys, some
so tinny they were trapped in the weave of a green
carpet that shone like water or glass--sea, that's
why it was a bad dream. They were all dying
because they were leafing out of their tanks.
I had scooped them up and threw them back into any
whaler I could find--I had stuffed, even, two
plastic cups full. And then, in order to save
as many lines as I could, I scooped a whole
bunch into an aquarium, awe at once--and that's
what they became soddenly, enormous carrots
sinking to the bittern of the dark.
--Kathy Fagan


This dream-poem is from Kathy Fagan's The Charm, a whole book of incantations (2002, Zoo Press). Here, she wakes from a nap and writes a dream, still so groggy her writing is full of slips. Indeed, they worsen as she goes, hinting she's falling back asleep: she's the one "sinking to the bottom of the tank."

At least that's how it looks! But I wonder which are dream-slips, which are the poet's conscious imitations--there are so many! My dreams often have a telling slip or pun... or two. But here it's one per line! My own dream-puns are sparser, and often deep--one such can unlock a whole dream's meaning. While these are telling, they're mostly just funny, not keys to any big dream-message I can see. And yet I guess it's possible. Maybe Fagan's a dream-pun master.

So what is Little Bad Dream Charm? Is it...

  1. a dream-account with a slip or two inspiring Fagan to add conscious wordplay?
  2. a dream-account crawling with true slips, just polished into a prose-poem?
  3. a purely waking creation mimicking a slip-rich dream?
I can't say. Because if there's one thing thirty thousand dreams has taught me, it's how different dreamers are.

One thing I will say--if this is a true dream-account rife with slips, then I know what it's about. Notice its doubleness? First the boyfish go wild but end up gasping on the rug; Kathy tries to save them by containing them again. Then she wakes--more or less--and her words go wild, leaping and leafing out of their lines, till she sinks into incoherence. The dream catches how frustrated the conscious mind can get in creative writing. Those words just won't obey! Off they go, impulsive as boys--or salmon. What casualties! And yet... only such reckless leaps lead to new life. Here, both sides get their due--leap and rescue, fever and restraint. The dream's a fair-minded clown, advocating balanced creative work.

OK, Kathy. My neck's stuck out to full extension. You can chop it now.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: dream poems - dream puns - nightmares - frustration dreams - false waking or nested dreams - oops! - rescues - air - kids - fish - fruits and vegetables - creative process - Freudian slips - two more dreams of slip-puns wall to wall: I Dream of Deriverrans and Hijack! The Christmas Special

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