Sunday, July 17, 2022

Taking Care of Monkeys: My Last Director's Welcome

You will all remember that my method here is to steal words from people much smarter than myself.

Mary Ruefle remembers “a reading WS Merwin gave in a tiny chapel, with the audience sitting in the pews, and how after a while we were all lost in a suspension of time—I know I was—and after the reading there was a Q & A and someone asked a bizarre question, she asked what time it was., and Merwin looked at the clock (there was a clock on the wall) and every one of us could see that it had stopped, it had stopped in the middle of his  reading, literal proof of what was already felt to be true, this spectacular thing, the dream of all poetry, to cut a hole in time.” 

 According to Jim Harrison the difference between a poet and a non-poet is that a poet, Shakespeare, describes aging like this: “Devouring Time, blunt thou thy lion’s paws.” Whereas I look in the mirror and think, "I look crappier every day."

In this Youtube video my wife, Aisha, and I like, a parent is asking a small child what she wants to do when she grows up.  The child is eating and not particularly engaged in the conversation, much more focused on eating.  

“What do you mean?” she asks her mom.

“What do you want to do when you grow up?” the mom asks again.  

“Take care of monkeys,” the kid answers with a dismissive tone, as in, isn’t it obvious?


“The aim of literature is the creation of a strange object covered with fur that breaks your heart,” so said Donald Barthelme. 


Aisha sometimes listens to TED talks in the middle of the night to ward off insomnia. Random phrases embed themselves in my dreams: “Escalation of commitment to a losing course of action.”  Can apply to mountaineering or the writing life, as you please.


Kerouac advised: “To be dark solitary eye-nerve watcher/Of the world’s whirling diamond.


“There’s something really interesting about this notion that there is a below the surface part of the mind participating in the writing of the story, and that what we call “process” is about getting out of the way of that part of the mind,” according to George Saunders.


“How chapped would his lips have to be to take a smudge of it from her mouthy tube?”

I read this somewhere and loved it, noted it, but forgot to write down the source.


“So much of what is lost in the shipwreck . What remains are fragments, and if you don’t hold on to them, the sea will take them, too.” ~ Rachel Cusk.


•Any one who has seen me do battle with technology knows that we, tech and I, have a fraught relationship. Alexa, for example, often does not respond to my requests.

After three attempts, I’m like, “Alexa turn the fucking radio off.” My wife says I’m mean to her, that’s why she doesn’t pay any attention to me. Aisha thanks Alexa.  Alexa responds, “You’re very welcome, Aisha.  Want to hear a joke?”  When Aisha says yes, she wants to hear a joke, Alexa says, “Okey dokey artichokey,” and then proceeds with the joke. I try to be as cool as Alexa when I text my wife, but instead of “Okey dokey artichokey” I am auto corrected to “Okay. Donkey Artichoke.”


On facebook there is photograph of a couple and their two teen aged children standing on the shore wearing wetsuits and standing next to surfboards.  The accompanying text:


“This fall has been the worst.  Our marriage exploded and our family is broken and we don’t quite yet know what it will look like in the future.

I intended to post this picture and say if you’re struggling and wonder why everyone’s life looks like a postcard while yours is full of challenges, it’s because Facebook lies.

But this weekend I was in Banff reading from This One Wild Life and I thought everything in that book is true too. It’s us at our best to be sure, but it’s true.

In This One Wild Life I say something to the effect that any attempt at narrative involves fabricating, and really life is a series of standalone events (the attempt to stitch them together in a coherent and meaningful way relies on fiction). This post card standalone moment below is just as true as the miserable standalone moment we find ourselves in right now.  I have infinite gratitude to all family and friends who have been supporting all four of us and our sad sad hearts.”


In the middle of the night my wife is listening to New Yorker podcasts and I hear the words “How chapped would his lips have to be to take a smudge of it from her mouthy tube?” Which is how I know it was written by Sarah Braunstein in a story called “Superstition.”


To end on a hopeful note: In 1500 the population of humpback whales was 125,000.

By 1966 it had shrunk to 10,000. A worldwide ban on whaling was imposed.In 2019 the humpback population is 135,000 and 9 of the 14 populations have been taken of the endangered species list.

Between the pandemic and the program ending, more hope:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”–Howard Zinn

I don’t really follow tennis very closely, but somehow every year I find myself tuned into the French Open, where I heard the announcer Pam Shriver say this: “If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”


Thanks for taking the risk, with us.


And take care of those monkeys~





 As spoken to The UAA MFA program on July 10, 2022.






Saturday, June 4, 2022



I was born in Detroit and return to visit family once or twice a year.  Each visit I make the short pilgrimage to the Detroit Institute of Arts.  There were times I spent my whole visit to the museum in the pavilion that houses Diego Rivera’s great mural: “Detroit Industry.”  


I spent time in Mexico and I also worked in the Rouge Plant, at one time the largest factory in the world, also known as the Dearborn Stamping Plant, at least the part I worked in was called that. The Rouge Plant is the subject of Rivera’s mural. Rivera painted it in 1933, forty years before I worked there.  In 1973 the plant looked almost exactly as Rivera painted it.  It’s been much sanitized and brightened since.  


From my mother’s house in East Dearborn you can hear the foghorns (are they really foghorns?) of the ore freighters coming in off the Detroit River to deliver iron to the steel mill at the Rouge.

I'm not including a photograph of the Rouge here because none can contain it, in my opinion.  But here are some numbers: 93 buildings, 16 million square feet of factory floor space, 100 miles of interior train tracks.  At its height 100,000 people worked there and a car rolled off the assembly line every 49 seconds.

I remember walking out of my shift as a marvelous escape, as if from a huge underground cavern. Some nights, I worked the  afternoon shift, I ran to my car as if behind me some powerful invisible force might pull me back into the place.


Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s much younger and now much more famous wife, hated Detroit. She resented that Edsel Ford, who had commissioned the murals, gifted them a Model T and not a Lincoln Continental. She also suffered a miscarriage during this time, at Henry Ford Hospital.  My father went there for the chemo treatments that may have bought him a couple years, but couldn’t save his life.


The painting “Henry Ford Hospital, 1932” is also called “The Flying Bed.”  It lives at the Dolores Olmeda Museum in Mexico City.  Kahlo never conceived after this and suffered lifelong anguish over not being able to provide Diego with a little Dieguito. 


After I worked as a spot welder on the assembly line I took the money and spent the winter in Mexico City. I was twenty years old.


About thirty years after that I finished a novel about a young American scholar from Detroit who goes to Mexico to research the relationship of labor and art in the work of Diego Rivera.


Something about that novel that haunts me is that the protagonist’s father dies in a hospital bed in the living room of his house.  Five years after I wrote the book my father died in a hospital bed set up in the living room of his house.


Curiously, I didn’t really know about the murals until after I had spent time in Mexico.  


You should go see Detroit Industry.  The paintings line all four walls a large pavilion.  The feeling you have is that you are living inside Rivera’s universe.


Once I wrote these lines in an essay: “In Paris my wife and I saw an old lady get struck in the head by a soccer ball.  Later that day in a small cathedral an ancient nun approached us unbidden and asked if we wished to see the Delacroix cloistered in the sacristy.  Later still: why had she asked us?”


That event happened in 2003.  It’s easy to remember the year because my wife and I were there celebrating our fiftieth birthdays. 


The week before we visited Detroit I converted that real memory of the Delacroix into a fictional scene.  The main character in this story is drawn to a church in an alpine village in France.  The priest invites him into the sacristy to see a Caravaggio on the wall.  I made up the painting and called it “Mary Magdalene Washing the Feet of Jesus.”  The scene in this fictional story is actually longer than the memory recounted above.


In this recent visit to the museum, after I had spent time with “Detroit Industry,” I remembered  writing the Caravaggio scene and asked if the museum held a Caravaggio.  It does.  The painting is called “Martha and Mary Magdalene.”  


Though I kept the Caravaggio in my story a fiction of my own device, I did some revision on the scene after experiencing the real Caravaggio.


It was Mother’s Day and we were with our son, the first time we had seen him in a year. We had lunch in the Kresge Courtyard in the museum, an elegant space.  Ahead of us in the line for food, a small girl, eight years old (?) took some cash out of her purse and paid for her mother’s lunch.


Before we left the museum my son and I checked out a special exhibit “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020.”   We were drawn to the Chrysler 300E, 1959.  It was the kind of car David Wilcox had in mind when he wrote the lines “I’m a tail-finned road locomotive from the days of cheap gasoline.”  My son looked at that car and said, “Well, I guess it’s all been pretty much downhill since then.” Detroit, 1959.


So, the Delacroix to which my wife and I were mysteriously granted a private audience?  I couldn’t tell you what the subject of that painting was.  It was dark.  I can only say that I’ll never forget the experience of seeing it.









Monday, April 11, 2022

Richard Howard, Graduate School, Lost Friends

In the late 1980s when I was graduate student at the University of Utah, Richard Howard visited for a whole semester.  As a fiction writer I didn’t have much access to him, certainly not as much as my fellow poetry students, many of whom Howard championed in their writing careers.


Mark Strand and Larry Levis were the poetry faculty at the time and between them they personally knew many luminaries of the poetry world. Octavio Paz and Joseph Brodsky visited. Charles Simic and Helen Vendler. Probably more who I lost track of. Around this time, Strand received a MacArthur Foundation grant, a genius award. It was said he spent it on a house on the coast of Ireland and some Italian suits.  Richard Howard, I researched, never received a MacArthur, a criminal oversight in my opinion, a reminder, as if it were needed, of the arbitrary folly of such awards.


The semester he was at Utah, Howard offered a course, a weekly lecture that was open to the public. We attended with the fervor of religious novitiates.  I don’t recall if there was a formal subject. Literature? Books? Henry James?  These were the topics. Howard sat in an easy chair, as I recall, and spoke to the audience as if we were guests in his drawing room. Richard Howard could make me like Henry James in a way that Henry James himself could not.


The tone of his conversation, a monologue really, was that he was talking with friends whom he had personally invited, and for that space and time we were all intellectual equals (which, most obviously, we were not).  I remember leaving the talks feeling giddy, inspired by his erudition and charm. 


Once I met him walking his dog on campus and somehow engaged him in conversation.  I may have had my dog with me at the time, enabling conversation.  My dog was a sled dog, a runner, who not once obeyed a voice command, and was one time arrested on campus for running through a flower garden. Richard carried his dog, a French Bulldog, which he treated as a human child. But what I remember most, was that his manner was natural, and he spoke as if   we had conversed many times, old friends. We talked about David Hwang and Madame Butterfly.  I can’t imagine that I had one iota of insight to contribute to the conversation.  He flashed a smile that I have not forgotten, the same smile of approval Gatsby once and forever flashed at Nick.  


I mentioned he was kind to some of my poet friends in their young careers.  He was particularly kind to my friend G., who would take his student loans the day they arrived, jump on his motorcycle and fly across the salt flats to Wendover, and gamble all his money away at the casino.  He married quickly and divorced disastrously even faster.  Richard Howard helped him publish poems in national venues.  G was a rock star. He suffered from terrible health problems and I never heard if he finished his degree, which wasn’t uncommon; some of the best writers didn’t. I never heard another word about him, until . . .


Fast forward to around the turn of the century and I run into G. at a Joy Williams reading hosted by Prairie Lights in Iowa City.  I had forgotten he had midwestern roots. He had just barely survived his health problems, had some kind of psychotic break, and was living in his mother’s basement in one of those prairie towns that the modern world has left behind.  I was living in just such a place myself.  G said he would never write another poem.  Language made no sense to him.


Somewhere he had run into Richard Howard again, which was hard to imagine as G.  was essentially underground, as hidden from the world as a federally protected witness. Howard had been his champion. And now, Howard was mad.  He felt like G.’s failure to continue writing was a kind of personal betrayal. “Like you let him down?” I asked.


“Letting Richard down was the least of my problems,” G said. 


That night Joy Williams was cranky behind her sunglasses, and after I said goodnight to G. I never saw him again, nor heard from him nor of him. 


This wonderful remembrance of Howard by Craig Morgan Teicher appeared in the Paris Review online:


I was deeply saddened to learn that at the end Howard had suffered from dementia. So profoundly unfair for a mind as capacious (Teicher’s word, the right one) as his. Teicher describes Howard saying of someone, dismissively, “They don’t read.”  But for anyone who did read there was hope, almost as Goethe said, “He who strives unceasingly upward, him we can save.”  If you read, you could be saved.


 I was not surprised to learn that Howard’s spouse had declared the “book in, book out” rule for their house wildly overfilled with books.  That rule has been declared here, too, and I have already dispersed hundreds of them, and gone so far as to acquire electronic copies of new books (which mostly backfires because if I love an electronic book, I am then compelled to acquire a hard copy, paying for it twice).


We were all shocked when Larry Levis died, not quite 50 from a heart attack, less surprised when Mark Strand died.  He was 80 and known to have been ill. Richard Howard was 93. They’re in a salon now, I like to think. W.S. Merwin and Susan Sontag are there, also many French Bulldogs.


If we’re finding Whitman under our boot soles, I am looking for Richard Howard between the lines of Barthes’ Camera Lucida, one of dozens of his masterful translations from the French.  Surely he is close at hand, beaming his generous beatific smile at whoever has found him there.



Sunday, February 13, 2022

"I Put a Spell on You," Southern California 1985

 In “Annunciation,” (The New Yorker, Feb 14 & 21, 2022) a new story by Lauren Groff, the main 

character, young, impoverished, and recently arrived on the west coast, finds lodging in exchange for 

chores in an abandoned poolhouse on a large estate ruled by a larger-than-life character, Griselda.

            In the mid-1980s my wife and I were in an uncannily similar scenario.  We lived for fifteen months in the “party house,” a large single room attached to the garage of a much larger southern California estate.  In exchange for rent our main duties were to water the extensive rose gardens and care for Duke, the estate’s much neglected pit bull.  The owners, a couple in their 80s, travelled a lot.

            I refer to Duke as “the estate’s” because I don’t believe he had ever been inside a human home or felt any human affection from anyone, ever. He was wary of us at first, but soon became friendly with Yida, our shepherd-husky and us. Soon he was sleeping inside with us and hanging out as if we were his owners. One of my favorite photographs of that era is of my wife and the two dogs napping in parallel on the coolest (literally) place on the estate, the concrete floor of our house.

            To find how the character Griselda is larger than life I refer you enthusiastically to Groff’s story. Our own employer/landlady Bea, had three names, her first, followed by her first husband’s surname and then Paul’s, her current late-in-life husband’s surname. We always referred to her by all three names, as if it were a title. I think she was widowed for many years before Paul signed on. Once when I was driving Bea to LAX she remarked, as if from a reverie, “I remember riding down this road in the parade after the war in the tank that my husband designed to drive Rommel out of Africa.” 

            Paul was a reserved southern gentleman who had earned his living as a golf pro, including a couple PGA championships. He was a local retired country club pro and still gave lessons.  I remember one day he was heading out to give lessons to a very wealthy man, the owner of the largest manufacturer of kimonos in Japan.  Somehow I teased the fee out of him, he certainly wouldn’t have offered it otherwise: $10,000 per day.  So although the estate belonged to Bea, it’s not as if Paul were not, of his own accord, a man of means.

            One of Paul’s clients was Bob Hope, who often called us to find out when Paul would be in town. Whenever I answered the phone, he asked to speak to my wife, and I could hear her laughing at whatever he was saying in their brief conversations. I love the idea of Bob Hope working on his golf game well into his eighties, not to mention charmingly flirting with my wife.

            Bea and Paul were a bit aloof; we were, after all, of the servant class.  But that Christmas we flew to Michigan to visit my family.  “But they have winter there!” Bea fretted, “What will you wear?” It wasn’t an issue that concerned us, but Bea insisted we take their fur coats, each one of which was of about equal worth as our car. We arrived in Michigan dressed like Joe Namath and the starlet of the day.

            The “party house” had a patio that was shaded by a large fragrant wisteria that would soon crush the trellis that supported it.  We often took our meals there. That summer Los Angeles was terrorized by “the Night Stalker,” a serial killer who broke into homes, often through windows. Thus we kept the windows locked and the little house was stiflingly hot. Sometimes to escape the heat we went to the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, a grand venue, “an odd mash-up of Spanish Baroque and Egyptian kitsch.”  Its air-conditioning was a form of resuscitation.  We arrived early and before the feature started they only ever played one artist on the sound system: Sade. I think we saw Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise there two or three times.  One of the characters loves  Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.”   And, it almost goes without saying that we were under some kind of spell during this time.  The Rialto has been closed close to twenty years.

Eventually the Night Stalker was chased down by enraged citizens in East Los Angeles after an attempted car-jacking. He was known to have killed fourteen people.  We opened the windows in relief.

            I remember that time as mostly idyllic, but it was never meant to be permanent.  When we were loading up the vehicles, Duke, the newly domesticated pit bull, crawled into the car and curled around the gas pedal and brakes under the steering wheel.  He knew he wasn’t going with us, but wanted to make sure we know he wanted to come.  We asked Bea if we could take him, but she would not hear of it. To this day both my wife and I regret not having dognapped him.

            A few months later we heard that Duke had to be put down. We didn’t believe it and our hearts were broken.  Yida would hold on four more years. Bea and Paul are long gone now, of course.  And Bob Hope.  The Night Stalker, in death row in San Quentin for twenty-three years, of cancer.  As of this writing, my wife and I remain here, among the living, still under a spell and thinking about getting new dog, aware of the possibility that she may outlive us.

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Stars My Destination

The scene I love most in The Tender Bar is when the uncle, the Ben Affleck character, opens a closet stacked with books from floor-to-ceiling and advises his fatherless nephew, an aspiring writer: “Start by reading all these.” 

I met Drago when we were in the eighth grade.  I remember the first time I visited his house.  Like me he was the oldest of seven siblings. He took me down into the basement of his family’s house on Morley Street. Flush with the concrete wall was a sealed wooden door.  The door had a small square opening about four inches square hinged into its center.  Drago opened this tiny door and inserted his, hand, arm, all the way to the shoulder releasing an interior latch and opening the door as if by secret code.  He pulled a string and the room was illuminated.  The sight took my breath away. I was looking at a small room, a cell really, of about 8 by 10 feet. A cot, Drago’s bed, occupied almost all the floor space, each wall was bookshelf from ceiling to floor overstuffed with books, mostly paperback science fiction.  We would read these for the next five or six years. We read the classics, Asimov and Bradbury, Frank Herbert and Philip K Dick. From Vonnegut we would later segue into “literature.”  But what I remember reading most were the work of John Brunner and Alfred Bester.  It was like they were our own private authors.

Bester’s The Stars My Destination may have stuck in my memory all these years because of the quatrain spoken by the main character that appears twice in the book:

Gully Foyle is my name

Terra is my nation 

Deep space is my dwelling place 

Death’s my destination.


The second time it appears the last line reads “The stars my destination.”

    After we read this, for a few months we never used the word “home.”  We would always say, “Are we going to your dwelling place now?” Or, “My parents require me at our dwelling place.”

If I remember accurately (questionable) Joyce has Stephen Daedalus do something like this in Portrait of an Artist as a Young ManStephen Daedalus, Dublin, Ireland. . . . etc.  I remember making just such a list as a grade school kid at St. Michaels, as if to ask how many coordinates does it take to locate myself:

David Stevenson

Hathaway Street 

Wayne County



North America


The Solar System


Apparently this kind of quatrain was popular in the 18th century with “heaven” always being the destination.  Very aspirational.

            When we moved into the house we now live in there was a shed off the back door.  It was primitive, cement floor, no interior walls, or finish of any kind, a storage shed.  It housed, paradoxically, all kinds of garden toxins and rodents and spiders, as well as ancient, nonfunctioning and abandoned tools.  I emptied all this out and a wizardly contractor/writer friend finished it for me with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.  It is about eight feet by ten with an advantage of being about twelve feet high.  I keep a ladder in there to reach the highest shelves. I am there right now. It didn’t occur to me until writing this that I was recreating Drago’s little cellar bedroom, floor-to-ceiling with books. I wish he were here to see this, but he’s been gone over a year now.  I like to think there’s a glimmer of his consciousness out there among the stars, aware that he lives in the whorls of my memory, forever the skinny-armed eighth grader unlatching his secret door and opening for me that world of books.

            We were selling some furniture on craigslist and a young couple came over with a child about ten years old.  I happened to not be at home.  The couple was long in deliberation and pleasantly chatty, but the kid was bored to death. My wife said to him, “Want to see something?” He did.  She took him out the back door and opened the door to my study. The door opens to three steps downward, so there is very much a cave-like feeling to the place. She reported that the kid walked down the three steps, and looked around at the walls of books extending skyward and turned back to her.  “It’s like a Harry Potter room,” he gasped, “magic.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

So Much Is Lost

 When you’re reading a used book and the previous owner has marked the most bland, unremarkable passage in the whole book.  Through what lens were they reading this book?


Though our house is small, our bedroom is large and features windows roughly on the east, south, and west.  On sunny afternoons the space is flooded in sunlight.  We call it The Solarium. Last night I awakened to a bright light coming through the eastern windows.  I realized the trees were lit up by a full moon.  The moon then moved to the south and poured its light through the shore pines outside those windows.  Finally, it shifted to the west and came through the window there unfiltered by trees, illuminating the room in a shadowy bluish light.  Then it dropped behind the house across the street and into the Pacific.


Noted by me in Outline: “So much is lost in the shipwreck. What remains are fragments and if you don’t hold on to them, the seas will take them, too.” ~ Rachel Cusk


Woman: “Are you feeling okay?  Your face looks puffy.”

Man looks in mirror: “I’m fine.  My hair just looks stupid.”


Tsumnami warning!  Stay away from the beach!  Every electronic device in the house is alerting us.  The first wave will hit us at 8:30. Naturally, at 8:30 we walk to the beach. Others are there, too. We wish, I suppose, to meet our fate head on.  No evidence of the tsunami appears.  We spectators are disappointed.


I collect agates on the shore.  I pick up even the small ones, small as baby’s teeth. The other day I absent-mindedly found one in my pocket and popped it in my mouth. I realized what I had 

done before I broke a tooth or swallowed. What the hell?


On the beach we are approached by a woman and a child with three dogs.  The dogs are a large  Golden Retriever, leashed to the woman, and a mini-Aussie Shepherd and a retriever puppy leased to the child.  The woman says: “The little one’s neurotic.” When we walked away my wife said, “At first I thought she was talking about the kid.”


When my wife can’t sleep she turns on a TED talk. In the middle of the night I write down this phrase: “escalation of commitment to a losing course of action.”  In the morning I wonder if this is comment on writing.  Specifically: mine.


Thrift store find: The Selected Poems of Fernando Pessoa. This book has little drawings marking the passage of its previous reader: little half moons, stars, flowers.  An occasional poem is festooned with underlinings.  Finally, a note: “Consciousness is a problem.” They got that one right.




Saturday, October 30, 2021

Our son, gone six years today, visits me in a dream~


          Dream from the night of October 3, 2021, annotated



Dreams are boring, says the main character in Robert Stone’s “Helping.”


Never put a dream in a story, said Camoin, who generally had few rules about writing. He believed in what works.  Okay, he said, backing the needle off a tad, You can put a dream in a story if you have to, but it must have absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the story.




My father and I were going to mass in Galesburg.  We were dressed up in sport coats and ties.  He was driving north, presumably from Macomb, and there were snow covered mountains to the west rising above a flat prairie.[1]  My father remarked that sometimes when he was in the shower he could see these mountains out the window and was amazed by them.


Bob Dylan’s song “The Girl from the North Country” was playing in the background during most of this dream.[2]


We arrived at the church and there was no place to park. My dad kept trying to park on the street, but the spots were not legal. Finally, we decided I would go get us seats in the church and he would park the car.[3]


During the dream I heard something crash in the house, but did not investigate.


I walked in through a door and was in the sacristy where a red-haired priest was familiar to me, but I couldn’t place him. He was not the red-haired priest from the Newman Center at Western Illinois University.[4]


I went into the building through the sacristy and into the church.  The seats were against the walls and a small make-shift altar was in the middle of the room.  I found an empty bench on the left and sat at its end, intending to save a seat for my father.  An older couple with a developmentally disabled adult daughter sat down next to me and I explained I was saving the seat for my father.  They said okay, but the disabled daughter was sitting super close to me and kind of hanging on me.  I was very uncomfortable and the parents were pulling her away from me.  Although my clothes were very dressy as I stretched out my legs in front of me I that I was wearing brightly patterned socks that did not match my pants or shoes.


During the dream I heard the wind blow a door shut inside the house, but did not investigate.


Meanwhile, where was my father?  And why wasn’t mass starting? It was ten minutes after the hour: 10:10. It was taking my father over twenty minutes to park the car.  I finally got up and walked out of the church to find my father.


He wheeled up, and now I noticed the car was a big boxy American sedan, from the 1970s.  My father was no longer wearing his church clothes.  Macklin was in the back seat and he had an enormous bag of tacos and a pizza in a box.[5]He explained he had been in the mountains for days.  “Where?” I asked. “Way up there,” he said, “all the way to Lake Constance.”[6] He was dressed in hiking clothes, including his ski pants with suspenders.[7]  He was real happy about his days in the mountains and especially about all the food and we were looking for some place to stop and eat it. That was the end of the dream, Macklin smiling.


In the morning I looked for signs of fallen objects or a shut door and found none.  I had been up for a couple hours and wondered why it was still dark outside.  The garbage truck came by and I wondered why it was so late. I checked my watch and it was only a little after six. The garbage truck was on time; I had been awake since around four a.m.


The Takeaway

I recorded this dream because in the six years since he passed away I have only remembered dreaming about Macklin two or three times. And, he was so happy in this dream and it made me happy to see him happy.  


I think I don’t dream of him so much because he is always on my waking mind. I mean this quite literally. It’s like when you’re writing a sustained piece, a novel, and as you go about your daily life you’re only half in the world because in your head you’re “writing” the novel. Or, like when you’re dreaming, you can be conscious of what might be going on in the waking world: a crashing sound in the house, a slammed door.  Even, I suppose, if nothing has crashed and nor any door has slammed shut.


Macklin could eat a tremendous amount of food. I remember driving him to work and he asked if we could stop at McDonalds. Sure. He ordered a large breakfast, and then he said, “Can I have another one?” Sure, I said. Twenty bucks of McDonald’s breakfast.  Aisha and I once asked him if there was anything he wanted us to get for him from Costco.  “Get me some FOOD I CAN EAT,” he roared.


I shared the dream first with my wife and my son.  My wife was fearful: “Do you think it means you’re going to die?”  But that’s not how I interpreted it. 

My son said, “Was that heaven inside that car?” 

“Yeah,” I said, “It may have been. Maybe as close as I’ll get to it.”

`           My son and I are planning a pilgrimage to Lake Constance. Apparently, it is a very strenuous hike, even dangerous if you believe the route description (though I doubt it). When you hear a call like this, you answer.  We will tread carefully and listen to the wind, the rock, and the stars. We’ll sleep by the shore of Lake Constance, and, perchance, dream.





  • [1] Macomb, Illinois, our home for 13 years was about a thousand miles from any mountains.

[2] The Dylan/Johnny Cash duet version.

[3] I have never been to the Catholic church in Galesburg and have no idea where it is.

[4] “Sacristy.” This word can only be in my head because I am watching a horror series, Midnight Mass, on television that had a few sacristy scenes.

[5] Macklin passed away in 2015.

[6] Lake Constance.  Never heard of it.  Research shows a famous one in Switzerland and another one in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. In the dream, I presumed he was in the Chugach above Anchorage.

[7] These are real pants that he left behind.