9/1/02

Great was pharaoh’s perplexity at these dreams.

Joseph

I
n a democracy there is no king, so if there is fitful dreaming in high places here in the USA it must be the shared dream of the body politic. If you were Joseph and chanced among us, popping up with your polychrome jacket to put your divination skills to use here in the Kali Yuga, we could hire you to decipher these mass hallucinations, which have been arriving for some time, one after another, like encrypted messages scrawled across the sky of America’s brain. The state could put you on retainer and give you an apartment near the public bedchamber, where it takes its Nyquil and bravely faces the puzzling spectres that loom in the darkness between the end of Jay Leno and the Good Morning America Bakeoff. It sends for you in the middle of the night, bolt awake, quivering with dread. It has had a nightmare. It seizes your arm. What do these disturbing images portend? What do they signify?

I dreamed that an executioner became president. He had denied hundreds of clemency pleas. He believed in death. He wore cowboy boots. He pointed with pride to a pile of coffins. So we made him the leader of leaders, and vested him with the power to destroy whomever he wished. What does it mean?

I dreamed that two colossal towers rose above New York. They were a decade in the making, and when they were done they housed the elite epicenter of world trade and commerce. Ten men, in my dream, from a part of the world which had received little benefit from this edifice of wealth and power, which had been ignored and exploited and crushed by it, ten men, in less than an hour, armed with no more than ten box knives and a burning thought, reached out and brought it down. Both towers, lest anyone think it was a fluke, became holes in the sky, in minutes, without any effort at all. What is the lesson of such a dream?

On a world belonging to an enterprising tribe of apes, it is discovered that the bodies of ancient reptiles have been preserved in vast subterranean reservoirs. Their dark squeezings grease wagon wheels and heat hovels. They fuel foundries and propel aircraft. They are made into pistol grips and coffee cups, upholstery and rocket fuel and ball point pens. Every molecule of magic liquid lizard that is put to use by the apes releases an odd particle into the air. Rising invisibly above the smoking factories and roaring cities of the industrial age, these orphaned particles find homes in the chemistry high above the earth where a protective veil of ozone filters solar radiation and maintains, in an ambience of unimaginable extremes, a pocket in which life can exist. Then, suddenly, a great rift is detected in the ozone blanket. The temperature begins to climb. The hole enlarges to 10.5 million square miles. The weather goes nuts. In the American West, it stops raining. The seasons fail. 60% of the manzanita dies. 20% of the oak trees. Inextinguishable fires consume whole forests. Should the body politic be worried about this hole? Should it wake up and start thinking about where it is going to acquire 10.5 million square miles of ozone so it doesn’t turn into Texas barbecue?

A cult of middle class lunatics is found dead in red jump suits. Their leader, a moon-eyed neoplatonist who believes that bodies are little taxicabs for our souls, has been contacted by a spaceship that has entered our solar system with the Hale-Bopp Comet. A bucket of cyanide kool-aid later and they’re outta here, every last college educated one of them. They leave a videotape. “Come with us,” Mr. Applewhite urges. “Human intelligence will depart with us. When we are gone, there will be no intelligence left on the planet.”

I dreamed that a C student became president. A man described as a boozy party animal who had read perhaps one book in his life. In the course of his campaign it became clear that he did not know the names of foreign heads of state, and that he was not in the least interested in foreign affairs, or much else besides baseball and money. The future of nations was placed in his hands. I turned to look at his constituency, the electorate that had handed him such terrible power. I saw legions of gaptoothed gomers who also couldn’t name foreign heads of state or read a book, and who saw this plain speaking ignoramus as the champion of their mediocrity. What could this terrible dream signify?

I dreamed that the most brilliant, the most substantial and earnest of my own friends began to die. Their life support systems failed - their hearts, their gall bladders, their overpaid, arrogant, know-nothing physicians. In the space of just a few years, great luminaries started to blink out, shining elsewhere, not here. Magnificent people lay powdered in urns and graves, while child killers and corporate weasels still walked among us

Tonight, in a hallucinatory fever, I saw the might of the Judeo-Christian corporate-military machine arrayed against the mercurial spirit of the Muslim world, drawing a bead on pure smoke and firing the first of many useless rounds. It occupied Afghanistan, like a stone occupies a cloud. It built a wall, like the ones in Warsaw and Berlin and Nogales, to keep the murderous Palestinians away, to protect the City of Peace from the children of the curse. The practice of war expanded to embrace retaliatory infanticide. Killing each others kids. I wake up, thinking that I can not breathe.

A neither-dead-nor-alive archvillain comes and goes. He looks like Mandrake the Magician. Like sleep, he visits at his pleasure. He comes barefoot, smiling his fatlipped smile. He walks through walls, past every sentry that isn’t looking, then, calmly, playfully, blows large numbers of us to smithereens. Haybah. The shadow of God. Matter goes to war against spirit, and spirit against matter. The two irreducible principles of existence seek each to subsume and annihilate the other. What does the Oracle say? Is this bogeyman real?

I dreamed that American women began inducing muscular paralysis in their faces by means of botulism toxin injections to prevent wrinkles. Facial expressions, they had discovered, were the cause of wrinkles.

In my dream I saw thousands of innocents climbing over barbed wire in the baking desert, burdening north to find work. They were tradesmen - roofers and gardeners, stonemasons and hole diggers and farm workers and dishwashers and cement finishers, willing to do grueling jobs for low wages to feed their families. They hoped for a decent life for their children. The land they entered was not sane. Waiting for them in this place of opportunity, this nation under God, were employers, who welcomed and needed them, exploiters, who abused and cheated them, friends, who embraced and assisted them, government cops who hunted and evicted them, a society which could not function without them and which treated them like shit. To get to this confusing place they walked across a hundred miles of burning no-man’s land, pursued by armed patrols. The rate at which they died in these conditions was 1.4 men and women per day. 1.4 guileless, gentle, longsuffering, hardworking, godfearing, family oriented human beings, dead for want of a simple drink of water, on their way to pick our vegetables and clean our houses, every day. It’s not our fault, that standing wave of dusty corpses. They choose it. It’s not our fault.

I dreamed that God descended from heaven and founded the Holy Church of Rome, mandated to transform the world and conform mankind to the perfection of its author. An imperfect vessel was this body; even among the apostles, one doubted Him, one denied Him, one betrayed Him. And so down the centuries some pandered to warlords, some set heretics afire, some lusted after choirboys, and some looked away. But the bad apples were rare. On the whole, the clergy performed its sacred mission, carrying the Christian ethic through human history one mission, one school, one library, one hospital at a time. A moderating force in times of wrath, it survived by being an easy sidekick to its ruthless patrons. It carried the fragile message of decency and mercy across the centuries, but only by allowing the worst among us to believe that they, too, were decent and merciful. In the worst of times, they wisely looked away, blessing both sheep and wolves. They looked away, their moral authority often fading into chameleon colors for want of use.*

*On the week following this posting, for the record, leaders of every Church denomination (with the natural exception of the Southern Baptists) publicly opposed Governor Bush’s intention to invade Iraq, including his own Methodists.

The money in my dream was the conjuration of wizards, tokens of value, of light, empowered like the sun itself to transform itself into every manner of growing, living thing. It became gold, it became currency (the promise of gold), and notes (the promise of currency). It became compound interest and shares and options and annuities and futures. Men kept track of their burgeoning wealth in ledgers, as they had previously kept track of coin of the realm in counting houses. Then one day they noticed that the actual bags of gold that gave reality to their money were so distant, so eclipsed by proxy wealth, so inaccessible as to be for all practical purposes unreal. Real value, they discovered, was as unnecessary as Feuerbach’s Lutheran God and Einstein’s Newtonian Space. This led to the liberating, audacious, dizzyingly simple notion that they could add to their wealth simply by writing more numbers in their ledgers. So of course they did this. Until one day, all over the world, in as many ways as there were morphologies of money, because its true substance was nothing more, it all turned into air. I awoke in apocalyptic goose bumps. It was yet another collapse of the familiar into the nothingness from which, of course, it was contrived. The emptiness of our forgotten labor traded across the counter for the emptiness of our 401Ks.

I dreamed that Franklin Roosevelt died and went to Hale-Bopp, and that humanism was no more to be found. The vision of an American hegemony of generosity was lost in the rooting of hogs. We began to hear about “American lives” and “national interest” and “homeland security”, and only the barest lip service to anybody else’s legitimacy or human rights. The Jeffersonian entitlements conferred by God upon all men received a new, proprietary interpretation and no longer applied outside America’s borders. Our piggy eyes struck blind to the obvious consequences of such destructive arrogance, we found ourselves no longer universally loved. Our friends began to vanish. Our enemies began to multiply. In my dream, I turned and saw that human rights had disappeared here at home as well. Hey, I said. What is going on?

Two vipers, each over four feet long, have come to live at my house. They are there every night and every morning, coiled quietly here and there outside the front door. They neither sound off nor strike at me when I pass. I walk in my yard like an infantryman on point patrol. I had promised that as long as there was a drought I would refuse no creature, so here they are, like a sort of southwest rewrite of The Raven. I name them Scylla and Charybdis.

An American boy is dragged from the flooded cellar where his fellow prisoners have been slaughtered at Mazar-i-Sharif. He has harmed nobody, but he is in the company of men designated to die to make up for the humiliation of those twin towers we dreamed about earlier. He wears a third world tunic, and his hair and beard are long and matted, He has endured an experience which most people could not imagine. He himself never figured on surviving his jihad, but here he is, dazed, alive, his arms bound painfully behind his back, uniformed CIA thugs standing over him, thinking to scare him with the threat of still further death. To most he is a traitor to America, a hireling of the evil bin Laden. He resembles no one more than Charles Manson. He’s a kid of no age, without a friend in the world. I stare at him in my dream, his eyes rolled back, his face focused on some distant thing, far from his muddied, bloodied circumstances. Stripped, scourged and mocked, he resembles no one more than Jesus Christ. A shadu la ilaha illa Allah. There is no God but God.

Bible verses come to me in my dream. As you judge, so shall you be judged. Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me. I realize that I am awake, and that Joseph is speaking. The Christ you can touch is the ground of your being. It’s tricky to think about it, but that is why He is also your brother and your judge and your children and your bogeyman, your feelings and your facial expressions and your wrinkles and your 401K. Forget all of it and try to be a nice person.

*****