I didn’t think my home had a smell until I moved. My home was a house I was watching. I didn’t take all of my clothes. Occasionally I return to the house and stay overnight. I pull on a new sweater in the morning. The next day I smell different. Like myself, but not myself, because that’s no longer how I smell. How can my smell have changed so much in only a month? A little over a month. I don’t understand it.
The last time I slept at the old house I woke up in the middle of the night with a horrible nightmare. There was something deadly lurking in the dark. Heavy, oppressive. It wasn’t, probably, real. But I felt it anyway. And I wished that I had my cats there to comfort me. Or anyone nearby.
Often I’ll have dreams about homes I have lived in. Sometimes a horrible presence lurks in the basement of those homes, basements which are dark, endless. Catacombs, labyrinths. The ground shifts. The walls vibrate with menace. Rarely do I actually encounter anything in these dreams. But I am terrified in a way that is difficult to shake off in the morning.
The presence that I dream is the presence that I felt when I woke up from my nightmare. I don’t doubt that. They are the same thing. Not equivalent. While the two presences might be generated by the same neurons in my brain—and so emotional, imagined, as opposed to corporeal—one is dreamed and one is experienced consciously. Therefore one enters reality, even if only temporarily, even if the experience is limited to my perception. A threshold is crossed.
In C.D. Wright’s poem, “Utopia,” she writes about “a period of mud” inside her. Accompanied by “flies and midges,” oil drums, “someone who may be born to fail” crouched over a cinder block. But beside this wreck is “a time of intense sun,” which is when, Wright seems to be telling us, she is able to write.
The poem might not be autobiographical. It may be that she is always able to write. I am not writing but I am not unable to write. I am able to write. I am in a period of mud. I am haunted by myself, in a way that transcends reality.
I feel afraid. Everywhere. In reality, in my mind, on the page. When I don’t feel afraid, I feel superior, which is not the same as confidence and is just as detrimental as fear. I’m sick of this feeling and it is hard for me to acknowledge or type out.
I listened to myself on a tape recording earlier tonight, and the cringing in my voice suprised me. I didn’t feel like I was cringing when I was speaking, and perhaps I wasn’t cringing. But I was too gentle, and I feel that the gentleness was not becoming on me. It is not who I really am, and goes some way to explaining or at least diagnosing something of what I’ve felt.
A week later. I have listened to the tapes again, multiple times, and I no longer feel as if I were cringing. There’s nothing wrong with generosity or gentleness. The horror or cringing I felt was only in myself. A lack of confidence, I think. Reacting to the things I said as if to say anything would reveal too much. The period of mud is not over. But I am, perhaps, realizing that I need to act more forcefully, because nothing is owed to me. This is positive. I feel good.
For a long time I was content sitting in a corner and acting as if I belonged on another world and that’s where I was going to stay. Maybe I am still on that other world, but I am brushing the cobwebs off and learning how to establish an uplink with this one, the world in which I pay my rent and take care of my cats.
The sun has come out, it feels like for the last time. Temperatures above twenty degress Celsius. It always feels like the last time, the final time, when the sun comes out in the spring. It will rain again, temperatures will drop precipitiously before the month is over. But for now it feels like something has changed, and the period of mud is over, even if it might not be. I think what I should realize is that the period of mud never leaves. That is the true substance of Wright’s poem. The mud exists alongside the sunshine. One does not make way for the other. They co-exist, and to hope for anything else is, perhaps, to hope for death, a life cleansed of variety.