What Makes a Man Start Fires?

The word ‘brain,’ you know, never once occurs in the ancient scriptures of the world. You will not find it in the Bible –the reins, the heart, and so forth were what men felt with.

…Every man who thinks for himself and feels vividly finds he lives in a world of his own, apart, and believes one day he will come across, either in a book or in a person, the Priest who shall make it all clear to him.

Algernon Blackwood, The Centaur

"Open your heart to the one who’s dreaming of you…."

In this particular dream, which I did not have but carried nonetheless into the cold, gray morning, worrying it like an ache that was lodged at the very bottom of my throat, I was knocking, knocking, knocking, pounding on a door that no one would answer, until at last I turned away, inconsolable, and curled up in my metal saucer in the snow.

And that was when I decided it was a dream, because to accept it as an episode from reality was more than I could bear.

A dream is such a tricky thing, particularly when you reach a point where you can longer distinguish with any certainty a dream from reality. But dreams? The lingering, enduring productions of hope and imagination that have been hard-wired in who we are, often as not seeded by the various forms of enchantment we absorbed as children? Jesus, then you’re getting into even more slippery territory. Big, sometimes destructive stuff, often crazy and maddeningly elusive. It’s hard to pin a dream to the wall and look at it every day and say, "Right there –that’s where this rubber-legged walk on the highwire is leading. That’s where you’ll find me somewhere down the road, happy as a fucking clam and exactly where God intended me to be."

Some people, I suppose, are fortunate enough to have their dreams play out that way, and able, somehow, to separate the clear singular from the gauzy plural very early on. They put on their blinders and just start grinding along toward the dream on the wall.

Such people –determined bastards– kill me, really they do. From time to time you’ll meet someone who can actually manage to say with some conviction, "This is what I’ve always wanted. This is exactly where I belong."

You can take this with a grain or salt or whatever, but I tend not to believe such people. I think they’re hiding something. Most of us, I feel sure, are stuck with just this hazy constellation of images that constitutes our true dreams, many of which as we get older we spend a good deal of time hiding from. And then, occasionally, in some moment of happiness or serenity, we’ll manage to catch a pure, intoxicating glimpse of something concrete and just beautiful enough to keep us lurching along through the clanging days.

This seeking

O friend

is a stupendous task,

a raging fire

it is.

Jump in

if you wish

to be baked

but if you are

merely curious

this fire

would destroy you.

Kabir Das


Lord, grant me the strength and agility of those who build sentences

long and expansive as a spreading oak tree, like a great valley; may they

contain worlds, shadows of worlds, and worlds of dreams.

Zbigniew Herbert, from "Breviary"