Reading the News (Dream Journal)


December 1, and it's quite dark outside. The darkness gives way to disturbing dreams. Just after seven, I wake up to a loud screech of brakes. I'm glad to wake. A door slams close and the newspaper thuds onto the porch, and then, slides to rest against my door. Lucky omen. It's the Sunday Chronicle; I prefer the New York Times. (Happily, it will be on-line soon.)
But you know what they say about beggars and thieves. The paper belongs to the real estate salesman who lives in the apartment upstairs. He wants to sell our house to a local developer; I want him to move away. Last week he told me that the owner was interested in listing.
Opening the front door quietly, I look in both directions--the street is empty of people--so I snatch the paper, unfold it, and place it next to a bowl and glass on my breakfast table. Will he suspect me? I think not; he'll blame Gus, our neighbor. Smiling at my stealth, I glance over the front page.
The headline catches my attention. "Bay Area Artists Declare December 1 Day Without Art." Slumping in my chair, I wonder how I could have forgotten. Not the dead, but the day. There are too many dead to forget them.
For the last five years, I have stored a box of black crepe under my bed just for use on this day. Each year, when I put it away, I pray that I will never have to open it again. Now, it's time to pull it out once more and begin the draping. Drape all the paintings, all the sculptures, around some of the photographs. Sit and fast for 24 hours. I think of it as a kind of existential atonement. It is the best that I can do.
Aaron doesn't support my efforts. He says all this draping is too passive, too accepting. Sometimes I agree with him. But, what else can I do? How else can I remember the too many useless deaths of friends gone, talents untapped, leaving holes in our lives. Once, he took me by the shoulders, shook me, and asked, "Don't you ever get mad?" He stormed away and didn't call or visit for three weeks.
Last year, he joined Act Up. He says, they plan to close down the Bay Bridge. Hold it hostage for 24 hours. It's never been closed for that long before. But they can do it. Stall cars. Shut down the lanes with thousand of bodies. Dare the CHP to arrest them. Make people pay attention. At one time, I would have put my body on the line with his. Today, I unpack the box. Later, I will probably write another poem. Maybe, he's right.
Each year, I pray that this may be the last "Day Without Art." One day the headline will simply read "Cure!" and we will all know what it means. It will run in all of the papers--the SF Chronicle, the New York Times, (print copy and on-line), the Kansas Beacon. Tom Brokaw will break into the ball game with a special announcement. The Goodyear Blimp will trail a banner. Lovers will kiss in Time Square. And, I will bury the box of crepe in my back yard under the roses. My dream (so demanding, so disturbing) will end with cure; and, there will be no more rituals about absence, only rituals about joy and life.





--Leila Rae (1998)