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Sulfur Grotto

Dreamed 1988/8/30 by Chris Wayan

Caribbean treasure hunt. We divers float
in pale blue shafts of light by jagged wall:
impromptu reef where the liner tore apart.

She bore a fortune in gems. They spilled
into reef-caves as her hull ripped asunder.
Locals risking their necks dived under
her wrecked decks, scoured halls quilted now
in slow coral. Men lost; no jewels found.

So we sound blue holes beneath--but they're
an even narrower maze. Our leader owned
the liner; so won a last permit--one final try
before this death-trap reef is banned forever.

Some Caribbean holiday! I'm the only girl
and only teen. Bearded roaring Russians tall.
Voyage of the Hairy Papa Bears! I feel
lost in a herd of bellowing thew and thong
and hideous Speedos. Treat me like stray
kitten. Or they leer. I didn't ask to cruise!
Treasure-mad Dad dragged me along.

I'm scuba-trained, but I free-dive;
not even a snorkel. Less junk to snag.
More agile. Confident. That plus my size
lets me slip in holes beyond the guys.
So I'm no mascot but a scout! Spying out
where to chip and cut and run
airhoses and lights. Spelunky fun.

A few yards down is a pool of sky
with a jagged hole--the shattered glass roof
of the liner's dining hall. The Grand Stair
is now the safest gullet down through
the sad ship-corpse to the caverns below.

Local legend claims such blue holes are
oft portals to spirit worlds. So far,
no lionfish or wardrobes. But currents seethe
like kraken mouths and gills must breathe.

My breath lasts two minutes--too brief
to thread the deeper tunnels of the reef.
So the captain urges "Try a minimal rig--
this new air-pod I built is slim--not big,
but good for five-ten minutes." I try...
and it works! I still can worm down throats
so twisted grown men'd die.

I float, magenta minnow, down stairwell, hall,
till the coraline wreck-grid abruptly narrows to
drunken meandering monster-gut. I'm in.

I wriggle into cyan dusk. Light on.
Gold-magenta splendor slaps the eye.
Labyrinth, but the trachea never fails.
Three minutes in, a polyp closet. Pause,
check air. Near time to turn. But then
a faint gleam ahead. Douse my light--
Yes! I wiggle on...

Wry, tight lips spit me into a hall
rotunda-domed, where bubbles pool
and shimmer silver. Blob-stars. Dim
greenish side-lights slink warily in
from holes in scalloped edges like I'm
inside the living mouth of some
Captain Nemo dream by Verne:
a thirty-yard-wide clam.

But I smell danger. No, taste. My tongue
tangs of rotten eggs. Shiver of fear.
Hydrogen sulfide! A toxin known to gnaw
through neoprene seals--can infiltrate my air.

I freedive through the shattered skylight of a wreck on a coral reef. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge Girl in red swimsuit squeezes through coral cave. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge

In a coral grotto I find an unconscious diver. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.
As I turn to flee, a diver-silhouette:
a man. Limp, still. Alive or dead?

I go blank--next thing I know,
I'm up in light and babbling to our crew
of crazy grotto. They can't see how
I rose back to air, for I didn't burst
from skylight's jagged womb; I bubbled up
all floppy in lagoon. I had to squirm
out some side-hole, but memory's gone.
Creepy. Seconds lost.

Still losing! So dreamy I forgot the man I saw,
till amid the Russian bears his face leaps out,
and memory surges back to blurt

"A guy down there, unconscious, we
gotta rescue him!" They're skeptical but
a headcount shows the Russian's son,
youngest on board but me, is gone.

Can I find my exit, squeeze inside,
tow him out before he dies?
Is my hole too small for him? Swap my
spent helm for a fresh, and dolphin down
a-churn. Hope for rescue, fear that I'm
about to grope my first drowned man.

Won't know until I find my way back
to grotto. Search the spangled cliff for black
mouth, or foul green scent... and wake.

NOTES ON WAKING UP I freedive through the shattered skylight of a wreck on a coral reef. Thumbnail sketch of dream by Wayan.


I get up to find our water heater broke during the night. The utility room has a lagoon of rusty water. I splash over to the heater, kneel and peer into the pilot-light chamber underneath, looking for the leak. And see... the grotto in my dream! A rusty pool, round walls, slight sulfurous smell, and dim greenish light from the holes around the sides. The rusted-out metal even matches the color and texture of the cavern's rocks!

Spooky. How'd the dream know?

In a coral grotto I find an unconscious diver. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.


Hmm. So dreamwork without ideological baggage lets you explore depths that gear-laden guys could never reach! And what if those depths aren't just psychological, but shamanic? By 'shamanic' I mean intuition/luck/sychronicity that (even if not provably paranormal) is functionally indistinguishable from ESP. For centuries that was the point of dreamwork--you want a tribal shaman with good hunches; never mind how s/he dreams them up!

I now suspect this is one of dreaming's core functions. Below the merely psychological reefs--waking-world corridors that have "suffered a sea-change / into something rich and strange"--lie deeper grottos. Dangerously disorienting, but in their altered state you scent warnings you never could, up in the realm of rational men.

LISTS AND LINKS: treasurehunts - islands - swimming - undersea dreams - I'm Just Not Myself Today! - gender-bent & age-bent dreams - size matters - anima/animus & guides - Silky, my anima - caves - Jungian dreams - scenic dreams - gimme air! - drugs & poisons - taste & smell in dreams - altered states, memory & amnesia - dreamwork - dreams about dreams - subliminal dreams? predictive dreams? ESP in general - same dreamer, same night: The Barrington Bunny - alternate grotto, alternate altered state: The Limit of Human Experience

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