Karen Rivers

don't try to remember your dreams. don't write them down.

Karen Rivers

Your son is covered with dots.  Conjoined chickenpox, you say gravely.  You're about to help him but you can't because the army is marching towards you.  You know that everyone must run and hide.   Now.  Do it.  

Your heart is rickety.  The thing that is missing already in this dream is hope.  The soldiers are killing your children.


Remain lucid, you say to your hand.  It folds into a shape like a paper crane.

There is a card game on a paddle boat.  The floor is sawdust.   You are wearing a black dress overlaid with a thick lace made from yarn.  Something spilled on the white web of wool, blood or jam.  You wait for your cards.  Now there is a game, but the rules are vague. The numbers slide off the cards like rain down windows.

Your ex-husband is laughing in the distance.  It isn't him. In the dream, he is being played by Christopher Walken.  You are so angry that he's even there, in your dream.  You aren't welcome, you tell him. The women he's with are naked.  You know them.  Christopher Walken shrugs, his laugh boiling out of him like blood roiling in shark-infested water.   

You stand up and you are falling.  A brown bird flies toward your eyes.

You are at a kitchen table.   There are yellow checks on the clean tablecloth.  Something important must be done.

There is a newspaper.   Spiders crawl over it. The horror bothers you. You brush the spiders off. You can't read the paper, the type won't be read. .  

You concentrate on an address where you have to go. Take a train.  The sky outside is a painter's frustrated mistake, smeared with various different weathers.  

You walk across a lawn strewn with frozen leaves towards a forest. The kids are in a sprinkler, laughing.   

You go inside the house. It's huge.  You go up all of the endless stairs.  The carpet lifts and curls and smells like nothing.  The kids would trip if they were there, but they aren't.  Did you forget them somewhere?  Isn't one of them sick?  Trying to remember is like trying to swim through thick, viscous mud.  

Your heart briefly stops in panic.

You can't fill your lungs.   You swim because the house is full of water.

There's a hole in the wall, a gaping maw.   You look at it and think, I shouldn't go there, bad things will happen.  

Where are your wretched hands?  Gone.   

On the top floor, you find -- as you knew you would -- a classroom lined with ancient desks.  The clock on the wall says 3 o'clock.  The grass is ten stories down.  The kids are playing, dressed in white.   

Coming towards you is a little girl in pigtails.  It's six year old you, walking slowly.  You have red eyes, burning like coals.  The horror is profound.  You say, "Let's not."  She sits down.  She is reading a book.   Her hands melt, dripping white wax on the brown desk.  

It's OK, you say gently.   You feel benevolent.

She is the zombie, with her conjoined chickenpox and in her hands a deck of cards.  You shoot her again and again and she stares at you sadly, her eyes are brown.

You try to run, but your legs are wobbly thin, pieces of paper, so you lean down and somehow pull yourself forward with your arms.   

And then you are on the subway platform and you are singing: I am just a poorboy though my story's seldom told, I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbled sexual promises.

The crowd on the platform moves like water around you.  Most people are wearing blue.  The sky is blue.  You are relieved.  

You wake yourself up with the singing that pushes through the dream and out of you, loudly enough to become a real sound.  All lies and jests still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. 

Now that you've woken yourself up, the dream is going fast.  The song remains.  Each remaining piece is evaporating as quickly as a blown bubble pops.  Gone before you can catch them.

Were you dreaming?  he says.  

Yes, you say.  Sorry, did I wake you?

I was already awake,  he says.  You were talking in your sleep.

I was singing, you say. 

You want him to tell you that he heard it, that you truly sang, but he doesn't.  You didn't. 

You remember that your voice resonated and was loud and powerful, rising in the blue. 

I finished a novel last night.  Writing it, not reading it.   Although I've read it, believe me.  

Once, twice, a thousand times.  Four years of work are in those 285 pages.  The words themselves have begun to feel more like a dream than a dream itself.  I have only ever spent this much time on one previous book, my first.   This is my new first book.   My fourteenth first book.  

The novel is as polished as it ever will be, the stones examined and carefully cut with precision tools after being pulled out piece by piece, extracted from the same subconscious that gives me whales that drag me nightly into the dark green glass depths of unknown seas.   

I hope you read it one day, when it exists, bound and glossy on a bookstore shelf, my small story that I lucidly dreamed through my fingers onto this same small screen.  

No one is interested in your dreams or mine.  

A novelist's dreams are likely the most annoying of all, as we are in the habit of looking for meaning in metaphors or making them up in those moments when we are first awakening.  We fill in the blanks and polish the tale.   We add details and explain.  

Dreams should be like failed novels, stored on hard-drives, never to be seen again.  (All those scenes strung together like wetly shining beads, that on closer examination, are only flat dry pebbles, boring in their multitudes.)  

Do you tell people your dreams or do you stop yourself?