Edward Hopper, Marshall’s House, 1932.
This sun-filled painting serves to illustrate a line
in my poem, and it illuminates this quotation:
The inspiration for this poem grew partly out of
details I have learned from researching family history and partly out of
my own philosophical reaction to the word forever.
Future posts will paint some sunlight on the people named.
Dreams of the Dead
“When you look forward, you shall see a long forever,
a boundless duration before you . . .
and you will absolutely despair of ever having
any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.”
Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – July 8, 1741
Sometimes at night when we suddenly wake up lost
from dreaming of the dead we’ve known in former life,
I wonder if they too dream us back to their lost world,
push us back into this earthly life we wake up to
with audible gasps of heavy and hesitant breath?
This morning at McDonald’s among the early breakfast
customers, some of the elder people seated near me
spoke of dreaming of their dead loves. One man
said he sometimes wakes in fear, dreaming again
his first wife is alive, coming back to him mad
as hell he’d married another woman after her.
Then he told his friends the sweet story of how
he met his second wife, or rather how she walked into
his life unassumingly, asking where he would like the box
she’d carried from his U-haul van into the apartment
he’d taken next to hers. A meeting as simple as that
led them each into second marriage as firm as friendship—
to hear him finish his story. But I began by speaking
of the dead and their eternal dreaming, speculating if our
dreams may bridge their afterlives before we enter
what Edwards called “a long forever.” Though he spoke
of Puritan hell and damnation, I usually view living forever
with uncommon dread: What in heaven’s name am I to do for
all of that time? Sometimes I believe eternity will be
one long trek backwards in time, as each of us
passes through long receiving lines of ancestors,
shaking hands and how-do-you-doing our progenitors
in direct lines of descent, until each of us, male and female,
meets his first father or mother, his primum mobile,
shrouded in imaginary vapors of being. Along the way
I’d invite Edward Hopper to help me paint sunlight
on the walls of the house holding my mother’s muted
secret she took along with her to death. And I’d wish
to grill my great great grandfather, Alfred the Wanderer,
learning why he abandoned Benjamin and his siblings
after Nicey died in 1843, and married Lucy in Tennessee,
fathering ten more children in Arkansas before dying
in 1879. I’d celebrate Caleb and clarify his role
in the Revolution, and ask him his grandfather’s name,
since my genealogy backwards stops with his father John.
We humans, all of us, like to dream we’re descended
from mystic kings and demi-gods, but the truth is I would
find myself sailing back to England for a few more Harts
by name, my line emerging from sons of man in Europe’s
primeval forests: cave painters, hunters, gatherers, gone.
I’d be lost in dreams of darkness I can’t decipher, crazed
like the day I could not hear my father’s dying whispers
and carry now that memory among my daily failures.
Sometimes I dream I’m Lear betrayed, carting my corpse
of time with me, wandering mad on the plains of Mars.
September 23, 2012