awake in my dreams | Javad Ahmadi
I am back again, 120th street, the old school, where I can disappear between the hallways and stairs, the columns and the classes. I told Carl how I have seen the tunnels underneath the cellar in my dreams and how they led me to the main corridor right off the main entrance. Carl thinks I am too young and the boy in me needs a father.
I called my son today. I feel older when he takes me for lunch. Carl thinks all that there is inside me has not integrated completely.
The smell of Mother’s soup brings me back to our kitchen in Iran. She was standing in front of the stove with her back to me, her black hair long and shiny. I remember how beautiful she was. Carl thinks she has not delivered me yet, and I float somewhere inside her. Carl says that explains my obsession with darkness and how I sleep in my dreams, walking awake between the alleys that lead to the mosques of a hundred psalms.
There are birds in my pockets. I tell Carl about them—the colorful fluffy birds and the dark one that guards outside. He says I am looking for my myth. There were pigeon cages on the roof of the house next door. I never saw them, I was in love with the tall girl next door. She had soft brown hair and hazel eyes, and her skin was so much lighter than mine and that of my sisters. Mother says they are not from around here.
I dreamt of the black dogs, laying on the streets panting, moaning with white poison bubbling through their clenched teeth. I thought how that reality was so foreign to me now like the smell of goat milk, raw and pungent, that the shepherds brought weekly to the house. Mother boiled it, and my sisters and I fought over the cream that stayed on top.
Mother wore black the day the Shah died. Father did not care. He thought little of elites and all the books mother read. There were red flags everywhere, and the music solemn and loud. I got my first eyeglasses at nine. It took me six months of looking at the sun on the balcony every day trying to catch a glimpse of my beloved before I convinced my parents that I needed them. Mother just thought I was curious and a bit precocious. She didn’t know that I was learning how to love.
My mother looked so graceful in the kitchen standing with her back to me, stirring the soup as the steam rose and dissipated. The smell of nutmeg and mint teased me like the scent of the garden after the rain. We had butterflies in the garden, but Mother never saw them. I heard music in my head all day yesterday, something in B Flat—something like green caterpillars chewing on the leaves my brother left in the boxes where he kept them. I didn’t know they lived on the tree branches—that magical alchemy of cocoons and butterflies I began to love.
I question everything these days, sleep on the ground, and paint my face. I like my canvases. They are not mine. I am the custodian. I give them away to the postman and the mechanic, interrupting their lives. Carl thinks I am a narcissist; I like to think I am kind. I do not sign my canvases, I do not ask for any satisfaction. I cry when they are good and have colorful orgasms dreaming of them, and that is plenty.
I tell Carl about the silence that unfolds in me, the stillness I feel lying on the grass watching the clouds. Write about it in your journal, he says. We will discuss what you write. You would think that two-hour sessions would drag a bit at times, but we spend the time that slips like silk in an hourglass so feverishly. He puts Humpty Dumpty back together. The coldness in my head dissipates, and I know I have sharpened pencils in my bag curing all the white pages he gives me. Don’t forget about the dreams, but don’t lie awake waiting, Carl says with a smile as we shake hands, laughing goodbye. Jungians are slippery; however, not as bad as the Zen masters. I feel ridiculed and put on every time I meet one. Carl thinks that will go away in time.
My academic mentor, a beautiful woman also with dark silk hair like a raven, thinks it is a privilege that Carl spits in my soup, which means he thinks I am ready to be pushed. I believe her reluctantly.
I miss writing in longhand, the way I missed the neighbor’s girl—her eyes when she caught me watching her, her grace as she smiled, and kept swimming away. The way my head was hot and my breath caught, the weight of the silence as the sun reflected in the water, and I went away. She visited me that evening on the roof. There was a summer breeze and taste of stolen kisses that kept me awake for nights to come.