Infinite Eight

When I was a teenager my mother saw I was sad,
and told me to draw figure eights on their sides,
over and over. "It makes you happy," she said,
"Psychologists are just finding this out."
I drew the eights on my books in school,
at chess tournaments, on toilet doors,
even on my own skin, until the ink sank so deep
that after a week it still showed, like an old tattoo.

Owl eyes on the blackboard in maths class,
moth wings traced on the window with a fingertip,
sycamore seeds spiralling on to sterile concrete.
An old photo of a birthday party, taken
just before I blew out the candles - "I am 8"
on a red badge pinned sideways to my t-shirt,
like an affirmation: "I'm still alive. It's not over yet."

Around the sun and its dark, smouldering twin,
something orbits in a vast, endless figure of eight -
remembered in myth as Marduk, Sekhmet, Nibiru, Rajah Sun,
the great red dragon, the fiery cross,
the one who came and will come again,
something barely remembered, like childhood trauma,
made unreal, fading like ink into skin, waiting for renewal.
If it didn't exist, something else would take its place -
another comet, another nightmare memory, to fill the orbit
linking our bright and dark suns:
the life we know, and the death we fear until it finally comes.

Mind Rain

she's there, between the eye and the brain,
like liquid crystal under the surface of a lens
listening to rain, thunder, strange city weather
like flames and devils in the wallpaper,
dancers in the air of the bedroom on dim mornings,
the shifting, coy disguises of the body
possessed by the ghosts of actors and the words of history
we like to take a walk to buy chocolate at night
we like to lie beside each other
raining through each other's minds

this is the outside, streams of whatever-you-call-it
flailing like octopus arms around whatever-it-is
everything bleeding, everything exploding
in and out of forms and bodies, the hot red and yellow
of it all, the deep green taste of the thawed lake,
blinding, tilted out over the trees, mirroring
their echo, their resonance to their own insane sound

this has no direction, that has no flavour, no texture
the ice cream is the same to me as the news and the sex
as I swim into the flow, as I divide into a million rivers
of attention and thought, tickling at the molecules -
they say it's an illusion that one second follows another,
one thought into the next, one dream into another day -
one by one we unreal things kneel down in the dust to pray.

Pendulum

the russian army officers shout in the long, cold darkness together with the barking of dogs and the constant, low whistle of the wind. starving in the arms of a dying superpower while new gods and angels stand astride the world. the sound of their horns brings the stars  down. the seas are filling up and the bread is all stale and they're selling their uniforms for milk. the body of the great god is rotten and the woman clothed with the sun is getting big and craving weird things. she's raging; she's nesting in a web of flame and waiting for the armies to build. the soil won't accept seed and the air carries no scent.

the warehouse streets outside the city shake at night with the roar of joyrider engines; and then it all collapses with the silence pouring into the light of morning and the burnt out car shells smoke in the wood. glass and charcoal in a blasted black circle and tyre tracks through the snowdrop patches. because everything is like that. like balance. your god is a marble rolling in a shallow bowl, a number dancing opposite its negative around the void. the superunknown. pendulums straining for the centre of the earth. your biorhythmic low, your wild mood swings, your unimaginable zero. fascinated and distantly watching the bathwater spiral away, wanting to understand. watching the sparrows coming back into the trees and the flowers tearing their way through the pavements. even the rock flows. nothing is solid.

we began on the grasslands and the marshes wading through the floods for food, holding each other in the dark and listening fearfully for the cough of the lion and the hyena's cackle. sky fire, rolling earth, and each other. the tower was struck down and the language broken, and there was no brother or sister any more. astral babies trapped in a birth sack made of thoughts and images and memories, knowing nothing but the surface, the membrane warped by touch. music swelling in the muscles of the throat like vomit and sadness, and the stars indestructible and indifferent in the dark.

there's an invisible thing in the yellow bedroom living in the quiet space between gestures, and if we let it, it would crawl into our warm lives like a child. a piece of fruit desperate to ripen. an inside cat, staring in fear and longing through the weird cold of the sitting room window. a tiny universe of walls and carpets with no time and no balance, just voices and smells from a temporary set of lives. water spiralling into the plughole, the pendulum falling forever. the cat growing sleepy and finally drifting sideways into the place of veils and confusion.

still, always, hopelessly straining for the real voice, the pure violin string in the centrifuge, the knife shriek in the earthquake howl, the mouse squeak in the menagerie madness, the impossible contact that puts you in the fusion core of the fever and shows you the truth. a pendulum seeking the centre of the earth, not through choice but just because this is how things are: they balance. you'll know it when it comes because it will be nothing at all. a mirror, a surface like the skin of a ghost, something pure because it protects nothing.

the old, broken king drowning himself in the eely water off the metal jetty. frozen moments of motion between intervals of blindness, like movie reels and zoetropes and memories. photographs of stick fights outside run-down cottages. moonlight on the crabs and sandflies on the shore of a calm sea. nothing to describe. the feeling of falling in a dream, the feeling of crying in a dream. lentils sprouting in a shallow bowl set under a basement window. chai tea heating over a gas flame and children's voices through the wall. nothing to describe. everything running backwards like a clock returning to the beginning for a second chance, and all the wars erased and all the words nothing but sounds. memories churned into a soup of poetry and understanding. something lost on the road beside the orange peels and the coke cans. an old branch you swung on, and that was the moment you first knew. nothing to describe.

the mind is a train ride through regions of light and dark. it's a girl in a blue dressing gown who loves you. fishing for something perfect in the shallow floodwaters moving through the mansion hallway. reading the sacred texts of an unknown and doomed religion with your head rising like a seed on a stalk to the ceiling. shaving without a mirror in ice cold dirty water in a rusty basin, tiny happy guru picture at the foot of the bed making everything insanely new. impossible; nothing to describe. traffic cones and pizza boxes and papaya and incense muddled together into chaos. something like balance. something like zero. a watch chain seeking the planet core. your body flat on the floor before the altar, seeking the centre of the universe, and when you got there, there was nothing left to do but come back again.

criss cross, words minced and chopped together. anger against the father, the cabala, the computerized testosterone death machine of chanting bible heartbeat sine waves marching towards death like breastmilk soldiers. napoleon's men starving and freezing to death thousands of miles from mother and home. the wrinkled monkeys panicking in the treetops as the eagle passes; panicking in the banyan roots when the leopard's snout nudges through the undergrowth. death from above and death from below makes you the zero where everything meets. nothing to describe except the colour of the good leaves and the taste of the bad; the waxy smell of the air as you bowed to your icons in the dark; the way every flower thinks it's going to be the bloom that the poet falls in love with. for one immortal, a billion forgotten lives.

kissing her finger, lying beside her while the morning swells like a tide behind the curtains, wondering how much of your mind she sees when you're sitting across from each other in the jagged warm sitting room full of screens and empty plates and words everywhere. words in your head all the time, hanging from axons and dendrites over the unknown, swarming around the swallowing point, pendulums seeking the centre of the earth. you come close to her and then move away again. light grows and fades in a blue haze and the night comes before you're ready. then the day comes before you're ready. you're never ready. sleep and waking don't mean anything any more except as markers, limit points on an attractor. back to zero.

always returning to somewhere that doesn't exist.
 

In The Country

I was in a large complex building very like the Leeds University Students Union, but as with all my dreams it had many more rooms and passageways and wasn't exactly like any building I'd ever been in. I'd just decided, after a lot of agonizing, to quit studying there, but I was still hanging around the campus for another few weeks. My friend and I were sitting outside a new, trendy bar in the Students Union. It was yellow-and-orange themed in a headache-inducing, cheesy-retro style. The tables and chairs were a bright, neon, chequered yellow and orange mess. Even the doorman was dressed in a kind of yellow and orange jumpsuit. I made a funny remark about the eighties coming back, and the owner of the bar, who was listening from inside, took offense and started shouting at me and calling me names. I wanted to explain that I hadn't meant anything offensive, just an ironic social statement and not an insult to him personally, but I couldn't find the right words.

Then I was outside myself, watching myself. I wasn't being someone else; it was an out-of-(dream)body experience and I could only do it by closing my eyes almost to slits. I was fascinated with how I looked as I did simple things. It was like knowing how other people see me, and I felt a kind of detached love for myself as a beautiful person. My hair was short and I wondered if I had looked better when it was long. This became relevant later in the dream.

I wandered around the Union a little. It was full of people. Parts of it were like the corridors of a hospital, with people waiting around in dingy rooms, staring at the walls. A group of black men were hanging around in front of a TV which was attached high up the wall. They were all eating pizza and drinking cola. I "remembered" at some point that I was supposed to get to the main office to watch a guy who was going to castrate himself after applying a local anaesthetic. I'm not sure if he wanted to become a woman or if he was just doing it for a bet. I really didn't want to watch but for some reason I knew I had to be there.

While I was wandering around looking for the head office, the Leeds University Students Union somehow metamorphosed into my old family home, and instead of a guy castrating myself, I was supposed to watch while my parents cut our cat Velvet's tail off. I found Velvet cowering in a cupboard, and I picked her up in my arms. I didn't want them to cut her tail off so I was trying to find a place where she would be safe. While I was carrying her she turned into a colobus monkey and started wriggling away from me. I managed to get her into a small room where I thought she'd be safe, but it was full of hostile monkeys of a different species, and when I closed the door I realized she'd be in trouble, so I went back inside and got her out again. I brought her out to the edge of the garden and let her go, and when I was turning away I noticed her twisting around and contorting. I realized that she was choking, and stuck my finger down her throat to fish out the bone that had caught there. After I did this I realized that saving a life is an incredibly powerful and significant thing to do, because you are adding to the universe. All the new possible universes that can be created by decisions of the being whose life you have saved are your responsibility.

I found a present from my dad waiting for me on the stairs. It was an old raincoat, and he'd left a note saying that it needed to be washed but that I might like to wear it anyway. I went to find the master bedroom, where I knew he would probably be. When I found him he was standing in the doorway. He was really tall and big, as if I was seeing him from the perspective of a small child, and he was smiling broadly. His hair was quite wild and long-ish, and he looked so youthful and happy that I almost wanted to cry. He hugged me, and I wanted to ask him what had happened, because I knew that he had been away "in the country" and I wondered what had made him come back so different and alive, but just then my grandad (my mother's dad) came up the stairs. Everyone was coming upstairs for a dinner in the master bedroom, which now had a large table and an oven and a fireplace. There was a pile of chocolate biscuits in the fireplace, and I took one and started eating it. My mother came from the oven with food on a tray, looking flushed and happy, and I realized that she and my dad had had sex.

I asked her what had happened to my dad on his trip to the country, and she said that she didn't know because he was being very secretive about it. We all sat down around the table, and I asked him straight out in front of everyone, "So, you have to tell us what happened when you were down in the country." He wasn't annoyed. He smiled and looked down almost shyly and began with "Well, now..."

Then I woke up.

A Ghost's Journey

The wind was driving the clouds insane -
terrified shreds flying off,
glowing sun-pink over the pine silhouettes
and foaming into a daylight moon.

We climbed the graveyard wall and crept
between the decaying headstones,
counting the years that have gone missing:
1843. 1875. 1912. All times as one.

Through a low stone arch, many tombs
like soldiers' markers in a quiet clearing.
The last time I was here, the sun marked me
as I invited the ghosts on my journey.

One followed, out of love. Now it was stormy,
and I'd returned, and no time had passed.
A new bench beside a new stone; statues
cut into an old sepia photograph.

I hugged her and kissed her hair,
feeling the energy between us. I wondered
if my ghost friend would stay or go,
if this was to be an end or another beginning.

Her mother sat smoking by the dead wife's grave
as we kissed, and the pines shook and crashed.
All time as nothing. All the death around us
had never happened - just life turning to life, forever.

Roasting Pigs

I was in my old family house, and my dad's whole extended family were there, but the house was different - it was much larger, and full of strange rooms and corridors that I didn't remember. It was full of people, as if for a party. My dad arrived home after a long day at work - he was very tired, and there was so much distance between us that it made me sad, and put me in a bad mood. I started to sulk, just like when my favourite uncle got married when I was 14, and I refused to smile in the photographs.

Two psychiatrists that had arrived at the house for a conference walked in to the room accompanied by my mother, and one of them told me that I should open up and talk about my feelings. I yelled at him to shut up, but that made my dad angry. He told me not to be so rude. I told him that he had no right to talk to me like that any more, because of the distance between us, and he got very sad and agitated, saying that he wished that people would just leave him alone when he came home from work, because he was so tired, and he had nothing to look forward to at home except more demands on him - to cook, clean, talk, deal with problems. Right now, he said, he was trying to cook dinner.

I felt sorry and ashamed, and I saw how much stress and labour he had in his life, and even though I knew that he had kept me at this emotional distance, I couldn't stay angry with him. I hugged him and told him I was sorry, crying a little, and he hugged me back, and for a moment we truly connected - for the first time in years. We were looking at each other and really allowing the other to see the naked emotional person underneath the mask. Just then one of the psychiatrists walked in and saw us, and he nodded and smiled, as if to say "my work here is done."

My dad and I went into the kitchen. He was roasting two entire, enormous pigs on spits in a huge oven full of orange-hot coals and flames. He turned them and made adjustments to the heat, and then he left me there is the kitchen because he had other things to attend to. Suddenly Liadain was there, and I watched her nibble on crispy pieces of the pigs' skin. She talked about how her family used to cook stuffing in chicken or turkey at Christmas, and how she loved to eat it. It occurred to me that she was eating pork even though she was vegetarian, but I figured it was her business and didn't say anything.

I went to look for my dad again, and found him sitting behind a judge's bench in a large room along with my mother and the two psychiatrists. They were part of a telephone panel, answering calls from distressed people and comforting them or offering solutions to their problems. This seemed perfectly natural to me, and I left the room because I didn't want to distract them.

The next time my dad came into the sitting room, he looked completely different. He was shorter and had dark hair, and he was much thinner and looked much younger, with a fresher face and bright eyes. He explained that he had lost 32 pounds on some kind of diet and had undergone an incredible rejuvenation. Rather than face the unreality of this, I just accepted what he was saying, and we started to horseplay. I picked him up and turned him upside down, and just then a nameless relative walked through the room and I called out, "Look! I could never do this before!"

I couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong, though. I started to get ready for bed. I was looking for somewhere to brush my teeth, and I went into the conference room where the psychiatrists were, but then I remembered that I had a room upstairs with a basin, so I went up to find it. Next thing I know, I'm with a small Chinese girl who I must have met on the way upstairs. I was showing her all around the house. This was the old family home as I remembered it from when I was very small - full of dark, slightly secret rooms and passageways and musty smells and mysterious presences. I wanted to show the girl a picture of my father when he was younger, to prove that the dark-haired man downstairs was an imposter. "I like him," I told her, "but he's not my dad."

We walked along the long landing that led to most of the bedrooms. The carpet was a dull hospital green colour, and daylight was coming throught he windows even though it had been night just a short while ago. There were many family pictures on the wall, but none of them was of my dad. We turned a corner and found ourselves in a huge children's playroom and bedroom. The sleeping area on the left had a huge bed and great sheets and drapes which hung from the ceiling and billowed in the breeze of large fans on the walls. On the right was a play area full of brightly coloured toys and books and a rainbow rug. A tape-recorded voice could be heard telling a children's story. I knew that the room had been built for my cousin Mark, who was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy and was severely retarded. There was a picture of an older male relative on the wall - possibly my great-grandfather who died before I was born. The room had a very creepy, ghostly feel to it and we left quickly.

I pointed out some small stairs leading up from the landing, and the girl said "The post room is that way." I felt that we shouldn't go to the post room, so I brought her to my mother's bedroom. There were lots of pictures here, and I finally found a recent one of my dad, in which he was large and heavy and had greying hair. I showed it to the girl, and compared it to the man downstairs, saying "You don't go from this to that by losing 32 pounds!" She added "Or go from having grey hair to black," and we both laughed, and I said "Or from being 6 foot two to being 5 foot eleven!" We agreed that the man downstairs couldn't be my dad.

Just then the girl got agitated and told me that when she came into the house, she had seen a strange, unnatural blue light, and she thought this might have had something to do with my dad's transformation. I asked her to describe the light, feeling that this was very important, but just then all the lgiht in the bedroom disappeared for a couple of moments, leaving us in complete darkness. I felt instinctively that it was a psychic attack of some kind. After the lights came back on, to reassure both myself and the girl, I showed her a power cord as we were leaving the bedroom, and said "It's the speakers for the stereo - my mother leaves them plugged in all day and sometimes it shorts out the power." It was only after I woke up that I realized that my power cord explanation couldn't have been true, because the light that had disappeared and then returned was daylight. I think I just came up with my explanation so that I could keep a grasp on reality - in fact, throughout the dream I kept on finding rational explanations for insane situations, so that I could avoid facing the unreality of it - and presumably, the realization that I was dreaming.
 

Lego People

I'd met some new friends and we were all sitting together in a cafe somewhere in America. They were very eccentric people and that was why we all liked each other. We drank lots of coffee and talked loudly about crazy stuff and generally made a nuisance of ourselves around the shopping centre. When we left the cafe the craziest guy started doing a dance in front of an elderly couple who were returning to their car - there was cheesy music coming from somewhere, and he posed like a ballerina, and then started vogueing. We were all laughing and taking pictures. Eventually the security guards came to chase us away, but not before we'd gotten into a music shop and started playing on the electric pianos which were arranged around the walls. They had a beautiful shiny wooden veneer  that I loved touching.

When we developed the pictures later we found that they were all pictures of toys instead of real people. Instead of me and a girl and a guy sitting talking, there were Lego people with bright yellow faces standing on a stippled grey landscape with big smiles. The scene in the parking lot with the dancing guy was all cuddly plush toys - a squashy cat and a floppy brown dog and a crocodile with big friendly eyes. All the cars were matchbox cars. We were puzzled but we loved the pictures anyway.

On the way home I saw a large climbing frame made of wooden logs and rope ladders, and I started to climb one side of it. It got taller and taller as I climbed, and I started to feel vertigo as I looked up and down. The ground was getting pretty far away, and even though it felt very solid I was afraid that if I climbed to the top I would fall off or it would collapse. No sooner had I thought this than the logs started to shake and the ladder I was on started to peel away from the side slowly. I was a little scared, but I realized that the ladder was falling slowly enough to prevent me being hurt. It tipped backwards and when it got near the ground I rolled over and jumped to my feet again. My friends and some other people had gathered around and were worried about me, but I told them that I was fine. We looked up to see what had happened to the other children, and it was only my ladder that had collapsed.
 

Bookshop of Death

I was in a huge bookstore that I've explored in several dreams. It has several floors and many sections, and places to sit down and read. The shelves are black and the carpets are red. In previous dreams I've been looking for people in the bookshop, but in this dream I'm looking for a book about sex. I can't remember why I want to find the book except that I know it has pictures in it and I want to see them (I think this might be a younger me in the dream).

While I'm looking for this book I realize that there is somebody following me, and I remember that I am involved in a mystery of some kind. A man was killed and I was supposed to find out why, or how it happened. I was with a group of young people who were investigating the mystery, when a man had driven up to a gas station nearby with a young boy in his car. I knew that there was something wrong about the man, but I didn't act on my intuition straight away, maybe because I was afraid of accusing someone in the wrong. Then I remembered one of the "rules" of intuition, or at least one of the rules of dreams, and I realized that if I had this feeling, it was because I had seen ahead in the plot and knew that something was going to happen. I chased down the road after the car, but it was pulling out of sight. I felt terrible - I knew that the man in the car was going to rape and then kill the young boy. All this had happened a short while before I entered the bookshop.

I left the bookshop wondering what was going to happen next. I felt that the plot was rushing to a conclusion but I didn't know what was coming next. I stood beside two men who were talking about a historical novel based on real events, in which a man was killed by a group of English soldiers. He had been shot over a hundred times, but he kept running. Suddenly I could see it happening as if I was a movie camera following the man's face. He was wearing a red uniform with black boots, and a silver wig which was almost falling off his head. He was guilty of a terrible crime, and he was being chased on foot along a road in open countryside by soldiers on horses. They would shoot him, and reload, and shoot again, and with every shot he staggered or fell, and then get up again. His blood covered the grass and the gravel for hundreds of yards. The soldiers were fascinated and appalled. The man was dying, and he must have known that, but he refused to give up. Finally he could only walk slowly, his eyes far back in his head, and a soldier got off his horse and walked up behind the man. He put the muzzle of his rifle against the man's back and fired, and the man fell forwards and everything went black. I woke up.
 

Manipulations

John Cameron Mitchell, the writer, director and lead actor of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, has come to visit us at our house and talk to us. Unfortunately Liadain and I are living with my mother and sister so I have to wait until really late at night to get some time alone with John to talk to him about things. I can't really remember what I wanted to talk to him about, I just had this feeling from seeing the film that he was a very interesting person so that's probably why he popped up in my dream.

We're talking in the living room downstairs, and for some reason he has taken his top off and approaches me from behind. I'm sitting down on a stool, and he leans against me from above, gently, like an enquiry, "Do you want to do this?" I feel kind of attracted to him, but it's mostly just because I like him a lot, and besides in the dream I'm just as in love with Liadain as in real life, so I just don't move, and he gets the message and walks away again. There's an awkward silence, and then he says,

"I want to know what kind of person you are. Are you aware of what you do? Do you understand the complexity and sensitivity of other living human systems?"

I think for a bit about what he means, and I realize that he thinks I'm toying with him - trying to be all attractive to make him fall for me, and then ignoring him. He thinks I don't believe other people are as real as me. I don't want him to think I'm that manipulative, and I find his question interesting, so I think carefully and start to reply, but then my mother and sister come running down from upstairs.

"Alan, watch out, he's an eighth house sun, he's ruled by Scorpio, he wants to kill you!"

I reassure them that John doesn't want to kill me, and they go back upstairs. Next Liadain comes down, wondering why I haven't come to bed with her. I tell her that I'm talking with John, and she glares at him suspiciously before going back to bed.

When everyone's gone I say to John, "I wasn't trying to toy with you. I know how people react to me but I wasn't trying to use that to make you like me."

I woke up repeating, "I don't want to toy with you," and the dream must have had some kind of effect on me because I kept thinking about John's question when I was on the bus on the way in to work. My first reaction was to feel guilty - yes, I am a bad person, I was toying with his feelings and trying to manipulate him to like me through sexual attraction, I've done this with many people and they've been really hurt. But I thought about it some more, and I realized that I wasn't lying when I told him I wasn't toying with him. And I realized that I had no reason to feel guilty about people who've accused me of this in the past. It's a game - someone is attracted to you or becomes obsessed with you, and they want you to give them something to make them feel good, like a relationship or sex or whatever they think they want from you. And if you don't give it to them, they get angry with you and call you manipulative or bad, because obviously you did something to make them fall for you. Their obsession gives them a claim over you in their own minds.

I've had people pull this number on me several times, and it has really confused me because my instinctive response has been to blame myself. So John's question is something that many different people have asked me in different ways, because they think I've hurt them or neglected them in some way. They accuse me of not believing, in some way, that other people are important. My mother and sister, friends, ex-girlfriends - many people have accused me of this, just because I won't play their emotional games or pander to their soap opera dramatics.

So I ended up feeling angry with John for pulling the same number on me. Shame I woke up out of the dream before I thought of it that way and could tell him to his face.

 

The Dark And Smiling Face

I was in my old house again, living with my mother, and some of my old friends from school had called over to play cards and drink. I was showing some of them my computer while the rest of them were watching television, and I showed them a website like E2 where I was posting articles on famous chess players. One of them asked "What about Etienne Bacrot? and I typed in his name and brought up a java applet of one of his games. I explained, "Etienne Bacrot just won the French  Championships.

The guys were getting quite loud, and I knew that my mother would be trying to get to sleep so I turned down the volume of the music and the TV and went upstairs to see how she was. I saw that her bedroom door was open and the light was on, and when I poked my head around the corner she said "Hi there," so I went in.

"Sorry about the noise, I'm just kicking the guys out now."
It's fine, don't worry about it. I see you disconnected the Internet and then dialled in again."
"The first call was from a mobile so we dialled in again from the land line, it's cheaper.
"Oh, that's good. Before you go downstairs again, will you do me a favour? Tell me if you see the dark and smiling face.
"What's that?"
"Oh, I thought I told you." She laughs. "The doctor showed me how to tell if I'm sick."

She gets out of bed and we walk to the top of the stairs together, and she waits while I go downstairs and look back up at her. She's half-naked and grossly fat and pale, and she hunches forward so that her belly pushes into a strange, contorted shape. As I stare at it, the folds resolve into a smiling face with dark eyes.

"I can see the face."
"Is it laughing or smiling?"
"Just smiling."
"Okay, I'm still sick then."

She goes back to her room and I get rid of my friends and go to bed.