Last night I had a dream that I was dying or about to die. Some organs had been removed from my body. They looked like little wooden knobs. They were said to be lungs. Excuse the passive voice, but dreams are ruled by the passive voice—a god-like force by which knowledge is presented to the imagination. I was living in some kind of dormitory and someone was there with me. A partner or mate. Someone who cared about me in a deep and profound way (or had). A lover I suppose. Or a former one. We had watched some kind of talk or performance and then walked back to our dormitories, which were next door to each other. It’s unclear to me as to why I’m so sure it was a dormitory and not a hotel, but again, such knowledge is just taken for granted in dreams. It seemed (like many dreams) that we were living in some kind of utopian (or dystopian) society. Not quite real or actual but a simulacrum of what I’ve come to think of as real. Like a movie of one’s life. This person or lover who was with me told me to get into the bath and I did. As I lay in it I knew that I would die and could feel the end coming. The true and actual end of all things. It was an astonishing feeling. A moment of true recognition and clarity. A kind of summing up of this whole detestable enterprise that nevertheless one feels morose about ending. I had to get out of the bath so that I could either say goodbye or give this person the opportunity to watch me die. But then, of course, I awoke and entered back into the life of the living. The so-called real world with all of its demands and loneliness. In a room with white walls going yellow at the edges. The window open and bird sounds trickling in. I was happy to be alive, to not be dying. But not as happy as I should have been. Something hung over me all day. That dream and the closeness of death brought on a kind of sadness or acedia that was manifested in my feeling tired, run down. I sat in a chair and stared into the distance. Then I just lay on the floor. Sometimes the body doesn’t seem to have the ability to remain erect. It collapses or crumples. Nothing dramatic, just inertia taking over. The blinds were not drawn but I could still see life moving ever so slightly on the street. For whatever reason I remembered a list or index I had seen. Sometimes memories just appear. Or reappear. It’s reflexive. Often an act of possession. This list was called notable people executed by garroting. I had seen it at a torture museum. It accompanied a series of woodcuts. There were two elements featured in all the woodcuts—soldiers and Christ. The soldiers held guns with bayonets attached to them. Some wore turbans. Priests held crosses as did the victims themselves. One held a cross in his lap and had bare feet. For whatever reason I thought I’d like not to be executed in my bare feet. Seems like adding insult to injury. I don’t usually go around in my bare feet. Something vulnerable about it. Many of the victims wore hoods. As did the executioner. There was something odd about the ways in which good and evil were mingled, even mirrored in these images. Or supposed good and supposed evil. The hidden meaning seemed to be that in the end, we’re all the same except for some have the power of life and death over others. And that power is mystical or has no meaning whatsoever. Some accident of history. And then I remembered the executioner story from the St. Petersburg Dialogues. I had read it in a summer program that I attended called Conservatism and Religion. We read some things like that and talked about them while sitting around a large oval table. I had the smallest shred of hope then about the future. But I think that place extinguished it. I slept in an actual dormitory there. It was in an enormous stone building. I went to where the washing machines were and laid on a leather couch so I could fall asleep to the sound of the machines turning. There is something uncanny about our pact with the mechanized world, our ability to live in peace with the dynamo (at least at the outset). As I was being lulled to sleep by those whirring machines it was hard to imagine a world without electricity or gas power and I thought to myself, the history of sound has yet to be properly written, but I am not the one to do it. I long for those moments of full release, like jumping into an abyss. Now I wouldn’t dare to sleep in a public place, but then I just let something like an erotic feeling take over and gave myself to that leather couch. It struck me later that I had been warned about this outcome. I remember a mentor of mine. Though that’s such an overly used word. He was a teacher and I was a student. He was unkempt, with dandruff. Not socially awkward but just the kind of person who seemed at ease with that part of himself. His office was stuffed with books—books on labor and Marxism, books on the American west. There’s no future in this, he told me. It was like being told the bar had run out of liquor. Go do something else, he warned. I imagined I had chosen a path that wasn’t even that ambitious, but the culture and the economy changes in unanticipated ways and along with it the world (and your place in it). Could I be a lawyer or letter carrier, he wondered. He had a friend, he told me. They were very close. Their wives were close. Their children were like cousins or even siblings. They’d eat at each other’s houses and go on camping trips together. I could easily imagine these two couples and their children. Precocious children, no doubt. And their houses would smell of cat piss from the untended litter box and there would be no television, but perhaps a loom or even a harpsichord. Colorful afghans on the couches, a few stained Persian rugs, and art on the walls. I grew up in a house with no art on the walls. Just family photos, grim and unenlightening. They lived, he and his friend, practically across the street from each other in Moscow, Idaho until the friend shot himself through the mouth with a .38 revolver that his wife had bought him for his thirty-second birthday. It was midwinter and the snow was up to here, he said, indicating someplace above his head. It was unclear if this was the product of the esoteric tenets that attend our chosen vocation or the harsh climate. This path, he said, was littered with such stories. Tragedies compounded by new and complex forms of debt. You have to learn how to live with or manage the fear. Repress or somehow stow it away somewhere where it doesn’t see the light of day. Revealing itself only in dreams.
Bryan D. Price’s work has been published in Diagram, Posit, Ucity Review, Rhino Poetry, Summerset Review, and elsewhere. His collection of elegies, A Plea for Secular Gods will be published by What Books Press in 2023. He lives in San Diego, with his wife, Claire, a dog (who shall remain nameless), and a cat named for Pina Bausch.