"Body of Dreams"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 16 2011 6:50 AM

"Body of Dreams"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Peter Streckfus read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

Last night, my father came to my dreaming

self in the form of a vampire.

A vampire's position is liminal—

neither alive nor dead, both and neither,

nini-funi
in Japanese, two-but-not-two.

The vampire, my father, no longer on this earth,

was on the earth but could not touch me

without hurting me, nor could he speak to the dead.

Unable to pass, he craved and feared his lasting.

A bardo is a boundary between states,

Tibetan in origin—a gap that can serve as a bridge,

an open span filled with an atmosphere of suspension,

neither this nor that, nini-funi. In Dante's

version, one is offered a definite end—

suffer for your mistakes, and you will ascend. 

The bardo of self-cognizant wakefulness,

the bardo of dreams, the bardo of meditation,

the bardo that occurs at the moment of death,

the bardo of the luminosity of true nature,

the bardo of transmigration or true becoming—

where there is the death of one state of mind

there is the birth of another, and between these

there is bardo, it is said—he came to me like this—

he did not sleep like an animal, nor was he awake.

The ghost state, the purgatorial state, the dream state 

—the fish circuiting their tanks. The Chinese of the vendors

in the background, the music in the market,

the white noise of water aerators. I hear the sounds

and feel a swimming sensation in my chest, a video

fiction, a trick I play on myself—orange, silver-gray,

and white ghost bodies—on each body that, fanlike,

tails the head, fanlike appendages—carp, perhaps thirty,

roiling around—one extends its jaws before its face

as a human person might lick the inside of his lips.

My dream ends with my father like a batman hero

swan diving off the roof of the building

on which we speak—incapable of flight, choosing pain

in place of death that would not yet come. I saw him jump

but didn't hear the sound of his body hitting the earth.

.

Peter Streckfus is the author of The Cuckoo. He teaches at the University of Alabama.

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