The body of man has in itself blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile; these make up the nature of this body, and through these he feels pain or enjoys health. Now he enjoys the most perfect health when these elements are duly proportioned to one another in respect of compounding, power and bulk, and when they are perfectly mingled.–Hippocrates
It is with some apprehension that I write tonight, as I don’t really want to write about this dream. I don’t want to shine a light on such darkness, or let it out. And yet, I keep having the dream. As if keeping it in somehow empowers the thought and drives me to dream it again and again and again. So tonight: a catharsis in hopes that I should rid myself of this recurring unpleasantry, and to clear out the black bile of melancholy that visits nightly.
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“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”–Percy Bysshe Shelley
Founded in 1852, Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington was the first planned, rural cemetery in North Carolina. Much like its sister cemeteries of Magnolia in Charleston, and Bonaventure in Savannah, Oakdale is a winding necropolis full of Spanish moss, alluring angels, and gorgeous flowering trees and shrubs that just begs to be explored and adored. Meant to be both garden and graveyard, this large, rural cemetery mixes the beauty of life with that of death and mourning. In the era of its conception, Victorian North Carolinians often spent many an afternoon relaxing in Oakdale with loved ones living and long gone, picnicking and reminiscing, and the cemetery became so popular that families paid to have their long-deceased loved ones relocated to its beautiful grounds.
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“When he shall die,–William Shakespeare
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
It has been a while, hasn’t it? For months now I’ve battled with writing, battled with dreaming. I feel stuck in slow motion, and in many ways stagnated. Given all that is going on in the world, I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. It’s almost like running in a dream or screaming under water; fighting so hard and getting nowhere.
So many nights I lay down and hope to sleep, to dream, only to fall into a fitful darkness that feels like sleep, yet still leaves me exhausted in the morning. Dark flashes of scenes, some good, some bad, dance before my eyes, but it’s nothing like the dreams I’m used to. After my surgery in December, my dreams had gone nearly completely, and I worried that they were gone for good.
But here and there I see breakthroughs. Here and there I see the light on the other side. And that’s enough to keep me pushing forward. And even though this dream wasn’t the happiest? It felt good to truly dream again.
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“They’ve promised that dreams can come true- but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.–Oscar Wilde
As the world locks down around me, so too does it seem that I am running into a bit of trouble in the dream world as well.
Most nights, nightmares have replaced my normal dreams.
Dark dreams of despair and hopelessness.
Sometimes they are vague. Many dreams of inky black, sharply shaped creatures, tearing at me with their terrible black claws as they visit me in the night. They tear away my clothes and scratch at me until I am raked over with fine red lines on my pale white skin. No matter how bare I am, it’s never enough for them.
Other nights are worse, as I witness terrible things happen to those I love, most painful of all being dreams of Liam being wounded.
I relish the nights that these malevolent visions leave me be, as rare as they are right now. They do shine through like sunlight in a dark forest, giving me hope.
One sequence in particular keeps replaying. The dream usually starts off as something innocuous, like being at work or going to a movie. Something totally mundane…
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I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.–Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Poetry as Insurgent Art”
I am unabashedly in love with poetry of all forms. From the staples of Shakespeare, to the metaphysical meanderings of John Donne, to Poe, Ferlinghetti, Rosetti, Aiken, Plath, Frost… the list could go on. Even the new, viral “short form” poems have a special place in my heart, especially those of Nayyirah Waheed. After all, music has always moved me deeply, and what is poetry but music with prose?
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I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.–Nelson Mandela
This is a post I started over a month ago. In truth, it is nearly 11 years over due in many ways. This story, this journey, is one that I have never told in its entirety. Before, I have only given it in bits and pieces to a select few people. Now, it is time for the telling, so that I can truly let go of some internalizations that I have held onto for over a decade.
This will not be a beautiful piece like I normally strive for. It’s ugly at turns, and raw. But a very real part of me that has been 11 years suppressed. This is my cancer journey.
When I was 21 years old, I was told that I had pancreatic cancer. I had to come to terms quickly with my mortality; far quicker than I think I was emotionally prepared for at the time. But I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to be brave. For my family, my friends. Above all, for my mother, who was not handling the situation well at all.
As strange as it was, I was not entirely surprised that I was sick. For months, I had been having dreams…
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Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light. –John Muir, Camping Among the Tombs
As of late, I find myself deep within the trappings of my own mind again. Considerations of times past, and the way forward, flash in scenes various as I mull over the meaning and the beat of my life. And most times? I find myself in my mental eye in Bonaventure, wandering its near-endless avenues. In dreams, too, she calls to me with her many residents paying me a visit here and there. It seems I can never quite escape her, as even in sleep, Bonaventure finds me in dreams.
I first came to Bonaventure at the end of March last year, though I had been drawn to her for some time. In fact, an entire trip had been planned months prior just for the pilgrimage of reaching Savannah and Bonaventure’s gates. When planning then, I knew in a vague way that it would be a life-changing experience. As with most of life’s lessons, just how life-changing this visit would be could only be revealed later.
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I cannot say, and I will not say–James Whitcomb Riley, Away
That he is dead- . He is just away!
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.
In late June of 2008, a mere three weeks after I underwent lifesaving surgery, I arrived at the local college campus to meet with someone I had only spoken with on the phone, a man named Jonathan. I was determined to completely derail my career and switch majors from elementary education to veterinary medicine, and he was the last roadblock standing in my way. I had filled out all the forms, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, but there was the problem of me being wait listed, as the program only had 64 seats. This “Jonathan” was going to get me into the program whether he wanted to or not.
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There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandchild.–Victor Hugo
After grieving for Sammy throughout most of my childhood, death, at some point, became merely a distant threat again. I thought of him most days, admittedly do even now, but tears had subsided into smiles as painful thoughts became fond memories once more. Plus, going through puberty and then my high school years? I had more than plenty to keep me occupied.
I took death, in, yet again, an abstract sort of way, wrapping myself up in the communities that were Goth and Geek culture in the early aughts. This was not an embrace of death, not fully. More of keeping an enemy at arm’s length. Using the fear as a shield, and then escaping into a digital wonderland when things got too “real.”
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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.–Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Winter has always been a season of loss for me. The three most impactful deaths in my life all occurred in winter, after all. On a historical and spiritual level, the season is inherently tied to death to begin with, given that for our ancestors, a harsh winter could spell doom. So I suppose it’s only natural. Lately, as I think back to those three I’ve lost, something has struck me in how I’ve processed each one, and how the digital age has changed how I’ve mourned them.
My first exposure to death, true death, was the loss of my cousin Sammy at the age of nine. I know that prior to his death, there were a couple of pets here and there that had crossed the bridge, but my grandmother and mother kept me insulated from what death truly was. It was an abstract concept to my child’s mind. People and animals lived, and then they went away. Less a feeling of loss, and more an absence, and I was already used to people being absent in my life. In that hopeful, childlike way, I thought little about the difference, and overlooked that while absent people may return, the dead do not. At least not in any conventional way… Read More »