The dark. Alone at night. The seamless void of solitude swallows me. Sleep commences..
I drift... She is here.We are naked.
"Yes, itís me, Art. Iím here in your dream. This one moment is ours. He wants to see you..."
I say nothing.
The path we walk, or at least, the path that slides beneath my feet is cool. She floats effortlessly just ahead of me.
The shiny pebbles underfoot scrape the tips of my bare toes. I want her. Iím drawn toward her but the stones are jagged now. This is Turtle Isle! Iím here with Dawn... Iím conscious... I know somewhere back there, I am also sound asleep.
Metallic pulsations--cricket sounds--scatter my thoughts. I am all sensation now, seeing close-up worlds and distant vistas simultaneously--smooth veins in each bright leaf, the slow sway of branches, millions of leaves, flow of fluids through transparent trees, miles of river spanning serpentine valleys, cascades of rushing water, tons of buttressed boulders--my senses expanding, filling the cool air with perception, consciousness. I am ears, eyes, heart, and empty mind; sound, sight and feeling without thought. I am life--in life--all of life. Dawn rises. She is soaring above me.
I float higher now, lifting off, unsteady at first, drifting. Iím lacking confidence. She simply moves her hand and I sense her message: ďTrust yourself. You can do it. You can fly through this dreamworld, as I am flying."
Yes, small movements of my body are magnified by my will to fly. Iím just above the verdant canopy of trees. Another lunge and Iím in a daytime sky. A brilliant blue-and-white cloudscape surrounds us. I can see three azure dimensions from horizon to horizon.
The ruddy rooftops of Reading stacked in rows rim the hills of my homeland. The jagged Pagoda silhouette capping Mt. Penn towers over vast acres of deciduous forest. Miles of railroad track, metallized mindscape of my art, are miniaturized in the quickly receding landscape of my dream.
Dawn hovers beside me now, her unspoken words--echoes in my mind, urge me to travel on alone: "You will know him when you see him. I am returning now to the dream from which I came. Good bye, Art."
All sensations of aliveness leave with her. In an instant the sky is dark, black as paint, then gray. Iím suspended in a dense thundercloud. Lightning sparks within the thick atmosphere are eerie, incandescent, effulgent. My body is no more but I am still here, waiting, alone, waiting.
I am at the old oak table in the communal farmhouse in Gettysburg. The signs--Hendrix posters, the upright piano painted geometrically in brilliant hard-edged enamel, psychedelic colors, herb teas on wooden shelves, the old steel wheat grinder--are everywhere apparent. My hair falls Samson-like over the muscular shoulders of my youth. It is the late 1960s. By the freshly tattooed scorpion on my left arm I know in an instant it is 1969 and that I am twenty-one years old.
My friends are in the next room. I hear their heavy breathing, the muffled sounds of their slumber. It is almost morning and I am the only one here who is awake. The room begins to expand and contract with my breathing. I rise slowly and begin a near somnambulant descent toward the basement.
This old homestead, used as an emergency hospital during the civil war, has housed ghosts of the Blue and Gray ever since. The cold earthen cellar floor, covered with chipped stone, was never cemented. One eldritch night long ago, we uncovered blood-soaked layers beneath the topsoil.
I am being pulled now, inexorably downward toward that sepulchral space. On the whitewashed wall flecks of plaster flicker in the dim light. The specks seem animate, intelligent. A man-size form appears slowly at first, then materializes and emerges from the dusty surface.
"Sit down, Art, on the last step."
I look away. The ravages of the final stages of his disease are everywhere apparent. I donít want to see him like this.
"It wouldnít do for you to avoid me now, after all this, would it?"
"Just come upstairs with me, Keith. This place reeks of death." The words are mine, but I am struck by their harsh tone.
"Sure, Art. Youíre alive. You have the power of life. Iíll do it your way. But friends will be awake soon. I wonít let them see me like this."
"Iím sorry, man,Ē I say. ď Iím sorry to be dragging you through this."
"Itís all right... it was bound to happen, anyway, at some point. Might as well be now."
He speaks these words across the table from me. I feel as if we have been sitting here for a long time.
"Down there in the cellar," he says, "that was just a dream. But this is for real."
"This is a dream too, Keith."
"No. This is your dream. For me, itís as real as it will ever be"Ē
"What do you mean?" I ask.
His face is pale. Heís virtually bald. The scabs of sarcoma are there, just as they were the last time I laid eyes on him. I recall denying their significance--telling myself they were signs of a rash, or a skin disorder. A few months later on the telephone he disclosed to me that he had been diagnosed with AIDS.
"We donít have much time up here," he is saying. "Donít waste it with doubts. Iím telling you the truth, OK? I canít explain it all. Youíll have time enough later to make sense of it for yourself."
To describe this as conversation in the conventional meaning of the term--uttered word-chains, trains of conscious thought, alternating in turn--is futile. Ideas arise between us, sometimes in advance of a response, or in anticipation of succeeding thoughts--a concatenation, simultaneous, more like currents, waves, whirlpools, eddies, a river of images,reflections--as if weíre in a mirrored room inside of our minds, one mind. Sometimes I know the response Iíll receive before I speak--or think.
His appearance grows less ghostly as we continue. In the rose light of the breaking dawn he seems to be coming more and more to life and health.
"I feel like maybe we should just put this whole thing behind us, Keith."
"Why bury it if itís not dead, man?" He seems to know the exact phrase I kept myself from uttering. The instant before I said "... put this... behind.."Ē I was about to say, "bury it." I chose not to say it that way, but his reponse exactly mirrored my repressed phrase.
He knows what Iím thinking before I say it. My thoughts shift in anticipation. Perceptions, mental images, ideas race soundless between us. It goes on like this--a jumble of insights, spilling out, filling the space around us, a unifying consciousness bumping up against the false duality of appearance.
"Thatís right, Art. I am you. Thatís what weíre doing here."
As he says this, he is transformed in a split-second, into a youthful Francesco. The young man I must have known as a child, but can recall only from old photos. He wears the pin-striped suit he wore during his passage to America. I must have seen him in it during the first three or four years of my life but I can not remember it consciously.
He calls me by my name.
"Why are you doing this?" he asks.
My emotions are a dizzying cascade of anxiety, fear, humility, shame. I feel myself diminished, put in my place. I am child-like, in tears.
"No, Grandpop... I just miss you, thatís all..."
"The farm is gone," he says. "I am an old man--happy where I am. Donít make me come back here."
In the next moment he ages... his face bearing the marks of decades.
Now there are three of us, for an instant, at the table. My eyes focus on each of them in turn, then in a blur, they form a single image.
"Is this what you want?" It comes from both of them simultaneously. Then they are one--one man. I am seeing myself as I know I am. I sit across from myself. I am facing my aged self. I am facing my death.
"Is there anything you still need to know?" I say. The thought echoes back and forth between the two of me.
"I donít know anything!"
Iím screaming--alone at the table. My friends are stirring in the living room. It is dawn and my dream dissolves....