[Friday 4 June 1993]

[I have been having vivid, melodramatic dreams. This morning] I was at a large poetry reading being run by K———S———, but none of the other faces were familiar. It seemed to be peopled by the kinds of characters I see around St Kilda. There were enormous, mutant prostitutes displaying their deformities as they stood around the edges of the auditorium. Something has upset the program and K——— asks me to read. I make my way, despite great difficulty, all the way around the auditorium (apparently going the wrong way) to the back of the stage, from where I am supposed to make an entrance. But I have taken a long time. As I get out onto the stage it is clear that S——— has asked some other people to start reading. I’m upset by this, and there doesn’t seem any point in going on. I look for my ‘cello and immediately notice that there are many instrument cases around the walls of the hall. It’s incredible, I think, that so many people here are string-players! I spot my instrument and go over to it. It is not in its case. When I get there, some young men, musicians, are near it and want to talk to me. It appears to be resting on a chair or sofa and, before I get to it, the musicians are crawling all over the sofa and, in effect, sitting on the instrument. I complain about this. It doesn’t do any good. They say everything will be all right. However, when they take it out from under them, I am shocked to see that the belly has great gouges in it. Clear, white, deep lines of unstained wood appear from under the varnish. It is ruined. It is resting in a car. I am visibly upset and cover my face with my hands. People in a car parked behind me are watching me. I begin to cry in my sleep. I react to its loss as I would to the loss of a person, a friend. I am not hysterical, but I cannot hold back from the feeling of terrible loss. For a long time the musicians try to console me, but I tell them it was unique and cannot be replaced. [Several people want me to play, but I am thinking that there is not much point because I am no good. But this dream is not about music, or about the ‘cello at all. It is about work, about finding a job. I got a call from a consulting firm yesterday offering me an interview for a job. It is the first interview offer I have had in months. The job, however, is with a public utility located in Dandenong! The woman who called was aware that the location of the job could put many applicants off, and asked if I was still interested. My heart sank when I realised it would be impossible for me to accept such a job unless I moved to live out there. I said that I would think about it but knew, even as I spoke, that I would return her call and turn down the offer of an interview.]

Big orchestra

What we need is a big orchestra of at least one hundred players. We should make a surreal painting of our lives and be able to say, as though it were the only true utterance that ever stuttered off our lips: this is what life is like: a briefcase, a glove-box, stuffed full with an enormous orchestra of violinists, cellists, flautists, pianists, organists, trombonists, french-horn-players, clarinetists, timpanists, cymbalists, the whole-bang-lot, that we could open up like a magic box in those quiet moments for which our language has no words. You know the moments I mean, don’t you? You could be sitting at a table just looking out the window, or reading a book, or a friend may have just decided that it’s time to go home and leaves you, or the music from the record-player may have just stopped, and the room is suddenly quiet, and you then look up from your book or your dinner, or have stopped at an intersection waiting for the lights to change, and then, as though your eyes had been pulled out of your head and taken ten feet away and pointed at you, you see yourself, your whole self, and you wait for something, for anything. A car may pass on the street outside, or someone may make a little sound in the next room, or a fluorescent lamp in a shop window may be flickering on and off, or the books in your room may stare out at you, a company of objects full of meaning no-one entirely understands. And standing there, or sitting there, just waiting there, you become an object. You are the object that arranges for the kettle to boil each morning, the fastidious object that periodically puts other objects back in their proper places, the object that, because it is not entirely without pity, sometimes almost spontaneously, acts with compassion toward some other object, a dog, a cat, a person, and sometime afterwards wonders whether it acted selflessly, and if so, Why? For what reason? That mad, suffering, ridiculous object which each day opens up its head and tears its brain apart, atom from atom, then throws them into the air, into the darkness. The atoms are like stars; the space between them the sum of all unanswerable questions. Or else, they are something more humble: specks of dust suspended in a beam of daylight. Whichever, you are the object standing there, watching, with its arms open to them as they fall. Coming through each day is a miracle: the atoms, the stars, the dust falling into your arms. It’s a miracle how nothing is lost. Each memory persists: the dust and the stars falling into your hands, and all the atoms combining to make you whole again, the complete object, the perfectly still object with not a single word in its head. Words could not explain what it is like to be just a thing, an object. No language has words for such a terrible idea. It is a moment like that when you need a big orchestra; not just a radio or a record-player, but a real orchestra, made of real people and real instruments. You need to have it straight away. There’s no time to go out and look for it; it has to be there, ready for you. And then you would want it to start playing slowly and quietly, there at the street corner, or at your table, or in your room: a single violin, or a piano beginning to play so quietly that you tilt and turn your head toward it, before all the others join in, making the music louder and faster, but even then only by slow degrees. It must be slowly, painfully slowly, because something terrible and unforgettable is happening to you. You had lost something and now it is being given back to you.

This ‘prose poem’ was first published in a radio broadcast (5UV, Adelaide) in 1984, and then in A crowd of voices. It is included among dream reports because it was originally a dream. In later years I abandoned attempts to turn dreams into stories and concentrated, instead, on finding a way of writing dreams that allowed them to remain, more obviously, what they were.

The living room

You see, it is just like walking through the door of a city hospital; the doors slide back automatically. With beautiful music in the background, you could almost be a film star on the set of a well produced American soap opera; but you have not quite decided yet whether you are doctor or patient. A directory on the wall reads: Surgery — 4th Floor. You take the elevator. Stepping out, a thin, red line guides you into a stunning steel room.

Sinks line the walls, and canisters of fragrant antiseptic soap are attached to them; it is just like home: harmless, clean. Walking into the well lit living room (that is what doctors like to call it), a comrade of many years motions you closer to the operation, and says:

“Would you hold this for me? I won’t be long.”

It’s disturbing. The meaning of this episode strikes you suddenly: you are just a visitor here; you came to wish a sick friend well; you didn’t expect to be given his heart.

This ‘story’ was first published in Meanjin (as Peter Kein, pseudonym) in 1982, and then in A crowd of voices. It is included among dream reports because it was originally a dream. In later years I abandoned attempts to turn dreams into stories and concentrated, instead, on finding a way of writing dreams that allowed them to remain, more obviously, what they were.
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