1    There are few probabilities through
      Which dreamers do not pass. . .

      The first dream
      Is the bright red dream
      Of our mother’s heart.
      It is her sacrifice
      Of something eternal
      In herself, for us.
      The Arabs say
      Blood has flowed
      Let us begin again.

      The heart is like a cup, or a coffer,
      or a cave. It holds the image of the
      sun within us. It is a center of illumination
      and happiness and wisdom. To dream
      of the heart is always to dream of
      the importance of love. . .

      The second dream is the inauguration
      Of the soul. In this dream we are
      Confronted by a host of birds. . .

      Some were guileless
      Like the doves,
      Said Odo of Tusculum,
      Like the partridges.
      Some came to the hand
      Like the hawks.
      Others fled from it
      Like the hens,
      Some enjoyed the company
      Of people
      Like swallows,
      Others preferred solitude
      Like the turtledoves,
      But all eventually flew away.

      “Living is not necessary, but navigation
      is,” said Pompey the Great.

      B. 1725, London
      Mother devout as gunpowder
      Seemingly clairvoyant
      Taught her only child
      To read by four
      Arithmetic and Latin by six
      Dies when he is seven.

      I am dreaming
      I am in the dark
      And it is raining
      And she is the rain.

      To dream that you are in the dark
      is a sign of difficulties ahead; if
      you fall or hurt yourself you can expect
      a change for the worse, but if you
      succeed in groping to the light, that
      is another matter. . .

      Father, master of ships,
      Lively in the Mediterranean trade,
      Unusual qualities —
      Educated in Spain, stern.

      I listen to nothing
      But the silence
      Of my father; the dream
      He is the rudder
      And the compass.

      If, in your dreams, you see your
      father and he speaks to you, it is
      a sign of coming happiness. If he is
      silent, or if he appears to be ill or
      dead, then you may expect trouble. . .

      Sent to sea at ten,
      Acted like a verb in disagreement,
      Of course
      But no eagle —
      A mess.

      I have vague
      Dreams now
      Of intelligent flowers.
      I cannot say
      If their roots
      Are in the ground
      Or in the air.

      By seventeen
      A wildflower
      In the field of Jesus.
      Pious, books, fasting,
      Abstinence from meat,
      A canon in his meditation
      And silence,
      But like the weeds
      Loved to curse.

      Flowers, one of nature’s best dreams.
      This foretells great happiness, unless
      you throw away the blossoms. . .

      A lot more flexible,
      Falls in love,
      Misses his ship,
      A freethinker now,
      Less of a thorn
      In the side of God.

      I dream that I
      Am always with her,
      A freckle on her wrist,
      A flower in her hair,
      A ridiculous flying fish —
      And dressed
      And set on the table.

      As I told you before,
      He missed his ship,
      Became a lover
      Rather than a Jamaican
      Father as expected

      Love is a dream of contraries as far
      as sweethearts are concerned. To dream
      that you do not succeed in love is a
      sign that you will marry and have
      a happy life. To dream that you are in
      the company of your lover is also fortunate. . .

      Late 1743
      Kidnapped into the Navy
      (What else)
      Coming from Mary’s house.
      Taken from his own life,
      Focused into new pieces.

      I dream about my fortune,
      A fragrance captured
      In a jar,
      A freckle without a wrist,
      A wisp
      Foxlike at the edge
      Of the wind.

      Fortune is a dream of contraries: the more
      fortunate and successful you are in imagination,
      the greater will be your real struggles. . .

      How do we fit together
      When we are not free?
      What kind of animal are we?
      How many heads do we have?
      How many tails?
      The sea
      Is a strange piece of property
      On which to discuss this,

      On the hms Hardwick
      One month later
      Midshipman John Newton:
      I have eaten war
      Like a cluster
      Of delicious fruit.
      The ironic juices
      Running from my lips
      That was my dream.

      The reality of war is the dream of it. Beware
      of those things that appear so friendly
      but have no reason. . .

      The Hardwick
      Ordered to the East Indies.
      First our hero visits Mary again.
      (You’re wrong)
      Almost misses ship,
      Completely misses the point.
      Given small boat of men
      To go ashore at Plymouth,

      My dreams here
      Were father, compass,
      Fog, leakage,
      And ultimately, learning,
      With us
      Like our laundry.

      We are always pulling from our past. Fossils
      are the dream of the sickness of someone
      you have not met for a long time. When
      this happens brew herbs, add honey
      and lemon, sip and inhale deeply. . .

      Captured like a frog,
      Returned, put in irons,
      Stripped, flogged, degraded,
      Returned to foremast.

      This is that point many people would
      call a black moment, an unfortunate
      color on things. I will not do that. For
      black is a contrary at funerals and our
      hero has just died a little as we
      all tend to from time to time. And even
      though that is true I will not do
      that either. I will not talk of the great
      white moment of death, I will not talk
      of the great blue and purple moments
      in the prosperity of pain. I will not
      talk of the great red or scarlet moments
      of quarrels and loss of friends, or
      the crimson pleasure of the unexpected,
      the mental tints of yellow and orange
      that show you should always expect
      change, or the feeling of knowing green
      because you have been on a long journey.
      All the colors are conjurers when our
      mysteries are being solved. And if this could
      not be his dream then by now it should
      be ours. . .

      We are not holy
      The wind says in the sails
      As he works.
      It has never been otherwise
      Though we live in the most
      Devout of stories like litmus paper
      Constantly changing color
      Just to prove something
      Is happening.

      The sadness in his dream is a good omen
      for the future. It is a quest for lasting joy,
      and so is punishment a dream of unexpected
      pleasure. . .

      Works quietly for weeks.
      His silence
      Darns a temperate
      Healing thread
      His eyes
      Become an elaborate
      Decorative art
      Avoiding everyone.

      “Every month,” said Cicero
      “the moon contemplates
      its trajectory
      and the shrubs
      and animals grow.”

      He has done to himself
      What is easy.
      He must now blossom
      Out of his new secrets
      Even if joy is ephemeral.

      He begins to sing,
      Creates songs about fish
      And clouds.

      Fish are a dream of penetrative motion,
      clouds are a dream of appearances always
      in a state of change. . .

      We must be patient
      With the overfecundity
      Of his youth.
      We must let him
      Climb and descend the mast
      Like a weapon.
      Trade him
      To a slaver’s ship
      To subdue the threat
      To discipline
      In his strangely awakening
      We must let him
      Choose his monsters
      And the myths
      Of his own worth —
      The enemy always being
      The forces threatening
      From within.

      Paul said, “We wrestle not against flesh
      and blood, but against principalities, against
      powers, against the rulers of the darkness
      of this world, against spiritual wickedness in
      high places. . .”

      Begins to breathe
      Different songs
      In his six-months’ stay
      Along the Sierra Leone coast.
      Troublesome songs,
      Songs of quick wit
      And devastating rhymes
      Ridiculing ship’s officers,
      Crew loves them,
      Becomes a choir.

      To dream that you hear other people
      singing shows that the difficulties
      that will come for you will come through
      your dealings with other people. . .

      The irate mate
      Assuming command
      After the death of the captain
      To put Newton
      On a man-o’-war.

      The Royal Navy is not an obstacle dream;
      it is an elaborate exhibition of the
      nuances of living death. . .
      Occupation: slave dealer
      Place: Sierra Leone
      On one of the Plantanes
      Features: Short, white male
      Name: Clow
      Other information: Black wife
      Name: sounds like P.I.

      John Newton
      Bargains his life
      Into this extravagant story.
      He will become a slave
      Because P.I. will hate him.
      He will become ill
      With fever.
      He will be denied
      Denied water,
      Tormented by Black slaves
      On command,
      Put to work
      On a lime tree plantation
      Enjoying only the scents
      And dreaming
      Of his earthly desires,
      Will master the six books
      Of Euclid,
      Drawing the diagrams
      With a long stick
      In the wet sand.

      Six is, like two, a particularly ambiguous
      number to dream about, but it
      establishes equilibrium. It unifies
      the triangles of fire and water and
      symbolizes the human soul. Six is
      the hermaphrodite, a personality integrated
      despite its duality.

      If this is a story
      Of the reasoning of slavery,
      Where are we?
      What have we been doing
      To people,
      To the light
      From which life emanates?

      Slavery is a story
      Of procreation,
      Of magic religious thinking,
      Of the androgynous divinity
      Within us.
      No story can be this happy
      Unless it is married
      To something deeply within us.
      It is not them
      Who have done it to us,
      Or us
      Who have done it to them.
      It is the antagonistic dream
      Of unreconciled love.

      To dream of erotic love is to dream of
      the desire to die in the object of desire, to
      dissolve in that which is already
      dissolved. The Book of Baruch says erotic
      desire and its satisfaction is the key
      to the origin of the world. Disappointment
      in love and the revenge which follows
      in its wake are the roots of all the evil
      and selfishness in the world. The whole
      of history is the work of love.

2    “The character of the image,” said Shukrâchârya,
      “is determined by the relationship between
      the worshipper and the worshipped.”

      On the beach,
      He eats the fruit
      Of his own way;
      He fills himself
      With his own devices;
      He continues to draw
      In the sand.

      Each grain
      Is a small,
      Precise form
      Of salvation
      That has occurred,
      A god come to earth
      In another form,
      A private,
      Innate sacrifice.
      Providence does not tire.
      We are ready to go on
      With the story.

      It has come to this:
      When his father dreams
      He only sees
      The broad face
      Of sadness,
      The soft grassland
      Where only asphodels grow,
      And the idea of water
      Expanding into tears.

      But to dream of sadness is a good
      omen, a transportation of suffering to the
      spiritual: this dream is like an herb,
      a seasoning, a bitter root, medicinal,
      something poisonous, but nevertheless
      something that eventually withers away.

      When you
      Come on to squally weather,
      When the wind
      Is about SW,
      You sway up the yard
      Fix the trysail,
      Put people to making
      Sennit and swab,
      Ask for my son.
      Ask the Lamb,
      The Beverly, the Golden Lyon,
      Ask Job Lewis,
      Have you seen my boy?
      Have you seen my boy?

      One thousand years before Christ, Solomon
      said that the way of a ship in the midst
      of the sea was too wonderful for him
      to understand.

      Clow: shamed
      Into freeing his fellow
      White man.
      After all
      They share the same hair,
      The same instinctual life,
      The same irrational power.
      There is no victim here:
      This is a story of love’s
      Of the spirit of love’s ferocity
      And savage insensibility,
      And the name of Jesus
      Turned in hymns,
      Spewed into the fringes
      Of the forest,
      Spewed on the deep blue sea.

      What dream is this, is that what you said?
      My God, this is the dream of the dragon,
      the fabulous animal, the amalgam of
      aggression, the serpent, the crocodile, the
      lion, what we like to think is the
      antediluvian nature of love.

      John is free now.
      John is free to slave,
      Free to be reluctant,
      To give up profit
      and return home.

      Ask the master of the Greyhound.
      Have you seen my boy?
      Have you seen my boy?

      To find money in your dream is not fortunate
      at all. There will be some sudden advancement
      or success, but it will prove
      disappointing. Reader, remember this
      statement by Virgil, “It will be pleasant
      to remember these things hereafter.”

      You cannot blame
      The sea on a woman.
      Unlike the seasons
      It has no ribs
      It has a crown,
      Wears a sheath,
      Swings a sickle,
      Adores the sun,
      And is known
      As bareheaded and leafless.
      The sea is the emblem
      Of the great capricious world;
      The naked image of flux
      Vibrating between life and death.

      There is a dream called “Dire is the tossing
      deep the groans; come let us heel, list
      and stoop.” And when John heard this
      on his way home, it was as if he
      had read 2 Kings 10:16, “Come with me
      [brother] and see my zeal for the lord.”

      For twelve months
      The Greyhound
      Sought gold,
      Ivory, dyer’s wood,
      And Newton sought the Lord.

      The way of a ship in the midst of the sea
      is too wonderful to understand.

      Youth is not innocence.
      It is not a militant puzzlement.
      It is a methodological initiation
      Into the ubiquitous life
      Of sin.
      For a life without sin
      Is no life at all.
      And so he wanders on
      Like Paul,
      So very Christian about it,
      At once wretched and delivered.
      Thinking with his mind
      He is serving God,
      But with his flesh
      The law of sin.

      Call out John Newton.
      Call out
      To Joshua, Ruth,
      Samuel, Obadiah,
      Esther, Zechariah,
      Luke and Timothy.
      The world
      Is a masterfully round
      That embraces everything,
      And it is time
      To reach into the horizon,
      It is time to choose
      Your ship,
      And the triangle of your life
      Upon the salty sea.

      As you can see, dreams are without reason,
      without solution, without proof, the
      unedited version of our love, our aspiration,
      our hurt. . . Call out John Newton. Call out. . .

      Back home
      Offered captaincy of ship.
      Sails as first mate
      On the Brownlow.

      Collects slaves.
      Takes them to South Carolina.

      He begins to dream of questions: “What
      was the mode used in stowing the slaves
      in their apartments?”

      Returns home,
      Marries Mary Cattlett,
      Assumes first command,
      The Duke of Argyle,
      140 tons burthen.

      Marriage is the dream of sulfur and
      mercury. Some believe it is a most fortunate
      omen, a volatile conciliation, a fragile
      union. They are right. It is one of the great
      uncharted seas of individuation. It is
      said, “If you are separated from your
      opposite you consume yourself away. . .”

      Dead reckoning
      Magnetical Amplitude          W° 25.30N°
      True Amplitude                   W° 6.30°
      Variation                            19° in Western
      Lattitude per Account          50° 48m

      One-third of the slaves will die
      In middle passage
      Some say fifty million
      Started the trip
      Some say fifteen.

      The dream of questions is a bright necklace
      with two ornaments on it: liberty and
      love, not truth.

      “At noon some small rain. . .
      Had an indifferent observation. . .”

      “We take the two men-boys
      For some shallop rigging,
      We do not take
      The two fallen-breasted women. . .”

      “Dear Mary,
                  Today, saw
                  My quondam Black
                  Mistress P.I. —
                  I believe
                  I made her sorry
                  For her former ill
                  Treatment of me.”

      The trouble with atonement is it is like
      a sphinx, several parts human, several
      parts bull, dog, lion, dragon, or bird.
      When we are dreaming of atonement, no
      matter how subtly, we must remember
      we are not dreaming of a verb.

      “I watch them work
      The tie, tackle,
      And lower lift.
      The boatswain
      Speaks to Bredson
      About the score
      In one of the strops.
      Thomas Creed
      Sits with his splicing fids;
      Tucks the strands
      Of the tack cringle.
      His fingers are either
      Little mystics or snakes.”

      When you dream the dream of square-sail
      rigging you are dreaming the dream
      that the same side is always before
      the wind. At the dawn of Swedish history
      it was believed Erik Vädderhatt, the
      King of the Svear, could turn the wind
      and cruise endlessly. Ships are supposed
      to be emblems of transcendental joy. . .

      “Do the male slaves
      Ever dance
      Under these circumstances?”

      “After every meal
      They are made to jump
      In their irons;
      But I cannot call it dancing.”

      “What is the term
      That is usually given to it?”

      “It is by the slave dealers
      Called dancing.”

      “Unclewed the sails.
      They too in their shackles
      Danced in the wind.”

      “Dear Mary,
                  I watched the land wind
                  Do to the sails
                  What it does
                  To our hair.
                  I dreamed of dancing
                  With you
                  Into the cold water,
                  Our wet clothes
                  Like nets and entanglements
                  Around our desire.”

      They would call them up
      Two by two, equivocal,
      Making it possible
      To be classified
      Pairs of birds,
      Pairs of oxen,
      Pairs of sheep,
      Reptiles, lions,
      Elephants, antediluvian,
      Carnivorous, herbivorous,
      Fabulous, beautiful,
      Ugly, strange,
      Cocks, locusts, bears,
      Foxes, and even flies,
      All of them black;
      All of them in colonnade
      To the gates of hell.

      John did baptize
      In the wilderness,
      Did call out to Judæa
      And Jerusalem
      Come lay down
      Your life
      In the River Jordan,
      Participate in his death
      And his resurrection.

      They said
      They were refreshing them,
      But the shackles still clanged,
      And most of them still stank,
      And many finding holes
      In the netting
      Jumped overboard
      And baptized themselves
      Bobbing in the adoring
      Loins of the sea.

      “Dear Mary,
                  The three greatest blessings
                  Of which human nature is capable
                  Are undoubtedly religion,
                  Liberty and love.”

      The shape of a ship’s hull is determined by
      the materials, methods of construction,
      means of propulsion, use, fashion, and
      whim. This is a dream of law and
      the minute verities of justice, the eighth
      enigma of the tarot.

      First part fair,
      The latter cloudy,
      Winds becoming unusual,
      Clouds dark, great lightning. . .
      I think of what we’ve done,
      My own illumination
      Before it is too late:

      The palm and needle whippings,
      The short splice,
      Blackwall hitches,
      Sheet bends.

      Quickly rummage
      The rigging details,
      The yardarm blocks,
      The tackles.

      Recall work
      On the pintles,
      The rudder head.

      Have Billinge
      Check barricado and stores,
      Especially powder and slaves.

      On this day
      Of the second voyage
      Of The African, 1754,
      Bound by God’s permission
      To St. Christophers,
      We are ready for our justice,
      To be winnowed like barley
      On the threshing floor.

      The great dream of the dark, with the
      lonely extroverted lamp, the intuitive ship,
      and the wind tossing on the innovative sea
      should moor somewhere. “Why is this
      so?” asked Kuo Hsi. For in our landscapes
      and our seascapes are the personalized items
      of our consciousness, the coarse grist
      of our imagination, the flirtatious metaphors
      stirring our ethics, and the boldly stroked
      delineations of our unraveling possibilities
      and original nature.

      Through the night
      We were played with
      Like kittens.
      The slaves spilled
      Out nightmares of themselves
      And groans.
      We will all
      Need dawn’s shawl
      This morning.
      I hope
      She is good to us.

      Osiris was slain by Set and put
      together again by Isis. John will dream
      like this, off and on, and then quit the
      sea. This is his last voyage. He will
      lose no slaves and no crew, and it will
      be called a blessing. At a time like
      this the Egyptians would build a
      monolith to marry the enigmatic tension
      between life and death. John will
      change his dreams, now, from the menstrual
      dreams of the slaver to the menthol dreams
      of the minister. Showing the devastating evil
      we do, like a storm, is only a stepping-
      stone to something else.
      Sing brother.

      I will become sermons,
      He says,
      That understand what I’ve done.
      I will become hymns
      Bound in the skin
      Of what I’ve done.
      I will be patient with Cowper,
      Inspiring to Wilberforce
                      And Wordsworth;
      I will attract the awakened crowds,
      The abolitionist.
      I will stand at the altar.
      Sing brother
      Dressed in black,
      Testifying. . .

      I dream I will not be forgiving him
      for the timeliness of his innocence, for
      betrothing the dead to the dead,
      but will be lifting
      up my hands to an appetite for life
      that will take slavers and slaves with me.

      I wish
      There was no timelessness,
      That slavery was over
      And so far away
      It was an incredibly mysterious
      Jungle —
      Somewhere else.
      An uncharted river
      Canopied by extensive moss —
      Somewhere else.
      A spectacular ragged
      Mystically expressed
      Over an enormous
      Obsidian wall,
      But it is right here
      In my pouch, today,
      Like the acori beads
      I have been swimming with
      For hours —
      Presidential, prime ministerial,
      Corporate, grassroots based.
      Right here,
      Racist, imperial, and sexist.
      Right here,
      Woefully spendthrift
      And Democratic,
      Anally retentive
      And Republican,
      Militantly inappropriate,
      And so good to itself
      That it jogs.

Primus St. John, “Dreamer” from Communion: Poems 1976-1998. Copyright © 1999 by Primus St. John. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townshend, WA 98368-0271, coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: Communion: Poems 1976-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)
More Poems by Primus St. John