Note: There are three footnotes in this installment.
I had a big dream last week that I brought to my friend and colleague in dream work, Susan. I prefer to call what we do deep work. Our sessions are wide-ranging and dreams are only one way into the work, which has to do with individuation, which always centers on the Self. So you might say our sessions are like entering the labyrinth, or locating ourselves in the labyrinths of our lives. We walk in mindfully, sharing an experience, a dream, a story about our week, a memory, asking each other questions, following the convoluted path to the center and walking back out again. Last time I shared this big dream:
I am alone on a small, old dirt road heading off into an unfamiliar rural landscape. I am starting out at dusk but it soon becomes dark, but I can see the road continuing on and on ahead and it begins to concern me that I don't know where it is I am going. (At first I was into the adventure of heading out alone.) I decide to turn around and start retracing my steps. I hear, or think I hear, a vehicle coming. It is a farm vehicle, an old motorized, open vehicle that appears to be half wagon (no engine visible) driven by a rustic farmer-sort, an old man with a broad-brimmed (possibly straw) hat. I am hitching. He slows and stops and asks where I am heading. I say, "back to the main road". He gives me a lift. I sit behind him. As we are driving I see a small person sitting next him on his right I didn't notice before. In the dream I assume it is a child, but now I recall the neck of the "child" was longer than normal. It was of a pale complexion and hairless. In retrospect I suspect it was a spirit. As we drive along we pass old derelict houses, and now it is growing lighter out. One of these homesteads is made of overlapping bands of shiny metal like tin that, when it was new, held the structure together, but now the bands have come undone and I see the house is inside a larger barn. There is wood but mostly these thin metal bands that have fallen into disrepair so everything is exposed and visible. We turn or veer off to the left making a slight change in our direction. I see another house, an old abandoned homestead, also dysfunctional, and this one is contaminated by some highly toxic substance (like meth) that the inhabitants were exposed to, and maybe there was a murder there. Or it was just plagued by profound dysfunction. And someone died but it was not reported and there might be some ongoing investigation that appears to be stalled, as the whole place and grounds look neglected and overgrown. Maybe it has to be decontaminated before it is searched for evidence and demolished. I continue with the old man and his companion. Now it is full daylight. There is a freshness to the early morning air.
This dream is about reversing my own trajectory. When the dream starts I have been walking on a lonely road into a drab landscape, into darkness and night. This is something I might have done as a younger man in real life, that is, taken a chance on an unfamiliar road for the adventure of it, but this isn't working for me in the dream. It feels pointless to go on with no destination in mind, the more so with night coming. I step to the left, just off the road, to look far ahead and the landscape is the same as far as I can see. I experience a change of heart even though I know the way back is long. As soon as I turn around I hear the motorized wagon approaching. This is a dream synchronicity. The turning, the change of heart, coincide with the approach of the wagon. I never really see the old man's face (which is obscured by the brim of his straw hat, and then I am sitting behind him) but he seems kind. He and the little spirit sitting next to him are my means back to the "main road", which I interpret to mean life in the middle world. This is an odd choice for me but I think in this dream I am making an existential decision to stay in the world. As soon as I do, it is dawn, whereas, only moments before, night was falling. The pace of the wagon is slow but steady, like a trot. These spirits want me, not just to see like a sightseer, but to examine several houses on the left that exude different kinds of and degrees of dysfunction. I only remember two but there were more.
It actually reminds me of my childhood neighborhood on the outskirts of Storrs, Connecticut. Across the field there was a family living in extreme poverty in a Quonset hut.  There were two brothers, Danny and Charlie, roughly my age. They always wore (clean) overalls (probably the same pair they played in) held up by safety pins. Danny, the younger brother, was mentally slow with a hair-lip. Charlie was tall and gangly with a stutter and he was always standing up for Danny. They were both very sensitive and friendly. We could hear them being yelled at all the way across the field, and being strapped regularly by their alcoholic grandfather. I liked both of these boys but I teased them like everyone else. If I had stood up for them I would have been teased, so I kicked that can down the road. The rusty dinged-up can of privilege, which manifested for me very early on as the fear of being judged by my peers.
My America, as a kid in the 50s, was my neighborhood. It was liminal, a patchwork. My family was not poor. We lived outside a university where my father taught, but across the field was that other story. I might have continued stepping back, being shy, not listening to my heart and conscience, not standing up for anything, if not for poetry. As a poet I was precocious, and in poetry I found my courage and my voice.
One of my high school English teachers fulfilled the image of a poet for me. Somewhat dashing in an irreverent sort of way, he seemed a little out of place teaching pimply, beardless scribes like me but, however he wound up there, his presence was a godsend. He genuinely liked my poetry, proving that by introducing me to James Scully in 1968  when I was applying to colleges. I vividly recall the evening he drove me to Scully's tiny apartment on the edge of the campus. He dropped me off, exchanged a few words with Scully and left. (I don't recall how I got home.) I sat on the couch in a dark living room with a folder of my poetry, listening to Scully carrying on an intense whispered argument with his wife (or girlfriend) in the kitchen. (It was dark in the living room because, when he seated me the sun had just set. It was after he excused himself and withdrew to the kitchen that the gloom set in.) Eight years later this same teacher showed up in a detox ward at a psychiatric hospital where I worked (in my late twenties) as a mental health aide. I recognized him when I was changing his sheets in the middle of the night shift. When he was sober, the day before he checked out, I spread all my poems on his bed and we read them together. He told me which ones he liked best and why, still mentoring me.
My high school art teacher, a Black man, also drank a lot. His moods were mercurial. I suppose now they would say he was bipolar, in addition to being existentially conflicted and confused. He shot himself, but not before he invited me over to his apartment to pick out one of his paintings as a graduation present. Years later that painting began to crack and chip to reveal another composition underneath. What had attracted me to the disintegrating painting was its strong expressionistic design elements with colors I had rarely seen together: pink, red, black and yellow in shapes that suggested a revolutionary architecture. (It was on a par with those paintings of the greats that I described in the Prologue, that burn and scald and cauterize.) That painting was sheering and flaking away and the one underneath meant nothing to me. But this painting-over-a-painting was him teaching me, at a time when I too was straddling realities, trying to decide between two palettes, living a dual life in one frame.
Again, I feel a little like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken's Christmas Carol, who is close to giving up the ghost for an untended grave unless he changes his ways, but he can't just willfully turn things around. He has to be willing to look at his life, past, present and future, dressed in nothing but his slippers and a nightshirt. In my dream, what is interesting is, like Scrooge, I am an objective observer. My role is to observe the tragic homesteads we are passing. Both places are deserted. Susan said: "The spirits are showing you hell." I agree, and it is also the underbelly of my country.
Honestly, my relationship to the United States is not conflicted. It is not love / hate, or I love this, but hate this. It is, Leave me alone. You do your thing, I'll do mine. (Implicit in this voluntary distancing is the idea that whether or not the United States changes its ways does not alter the fact that I have my own work to do.)
Every time I travel out of state I am reminded of how healthy our home and land is in Vermont compared to other places, how insular and unlike the rest of the country and well-defended, with the Connecticut River to the east, Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks to the west, the Canadian border to the north. Outside of the Green Mountains, I am homesick because what we have done to the land, almost everywhere I go, makes me sick. But hate? No, hate is too strong a word. I don't hate the United States. What I hate is how this country failed to fulfill its promise. But worse than that, it didn't just fail itself, it failed the family of nations. The USA is like an addict that just got worse and worse, who never did anything to help him- / herself. And, as we know, addiction is not just a problem for the addict, it is a problem for everyone who is related to or involved with the addict, and when the addict is the most powerful country in the world, then the addict becomes the world's problem. If the United States doesn't start dealing with its addictions and begin healing, it will continue to self-destruct and it will do enormous collateral damage. And that is, in fact, what is happening. Even though it doesn't seem like it, powerful countries, like Russia and China, are tip-toeing around the United States the way you do with somebody who is unstable and has a dangerous temper.
But back to those broken homesteads. I ran across an essay by John Donne, The Farme of Man, in which he uses the dysfunctional farm as a metaphor for illness. In his essay he is focusing on the land as the objective correlative  for the body: "How ruinous a farme hath man taken, in taking himself! How ready is the house every day to fall down, and how is all the ground overspread with weeds, all the body with diseases! Where not onely every turfe, but every stone, beares weeds; not onely every muscle of the flesh, but every bone of the body, hath some infirmite; every little flint upon the face of this soile, hath some infectious weed . . ."