Finally I saw some very small children playing with a striped orange kitten, and overheard their mysterious conversation, which has since been ringing in my brain like a gong. The kitten ran into a garden, and the girl called after it, "Sweet Dreams! Sweet Dreams! Where are you?" And the boy said to her crossly, "Don't call Sweet Dreams 'you'!"
Annie Dillard describes the conversation she overhears between the little boy and girl as "mysterious." There is something profound in the little boy's admonition, "Don't call Sweet Dreams you!" Sweet Dreams is Sweet Dreams, not "it" or "he" or "she" or "you." Certainly, the little girl did not mean to demean the little kitten in any way, but the little boy (perhaps because he's been called "you" in not so kind terms, as in "You better clean your damn room!" or "You are a pain in the ass!") attaches something negative, even threatening, to his friend's words.
Kids are a mystery, in what they say, the way they view the world. My son can play outside for hours by himself. When he returns, he's full of stories about fishing and aliens and zombies. Last Sunday, when he came inside, he held out his hand to me. I extended my palm to him. He dropped a dollar bill into my hand. "I found it," he said. My daughter, when she was five, did the same thing, except she dropped a dead bird into my outstretched hand.
I've always believed that kids are born poets, seeing things that adults simply overlook or ignore. There's a natural wonder in young people that, over time, is lost or forgotten. Adult wants and needs and worries overtake things like zombies and aliens and dead birds. Sweet Dreams isn't a kitten for an adult; it's a phrase you say to a child heading off to bed--as in, "Good night! Sweet dreams!"
Every time I sit down to write a poem, I feel like I'm chasing my younger self, trying to recapture a wonder-filled way of looking at the universe. When I was a kid, I had no problem in believing that I was going to be Charles Dickens or Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't a huge leap of faith. Now, I have difficulty believing in anything beyond the confines of my limited life and work. I read stories of people who discover the bones of a tyrannosaurus in their backyard or an original Picasso in their attic, and the stories seem like fairy tales. I have no room for wonder or mystery in my day-to-day existence.
Of course, I experience moments of inspiration. In church. In the classroom sometimes. When I'm listening to certain music. I feel my heart lifting, cracking open a little bit, letting escape a little bit of the child I used to be. Lent starts this Wednesday, and I have been casting around for something I can do for those 47 days that will lend meaning to the Easter season.
In the past, I have done things like writing a poem a day (pure insanity) to praying for people who've hurt me (headache inducing, but rewarding). I don't want to commit to anything that is doomed to failure (writing a novel or memoir in 47 days). Maybe another poetic exercise of a smaller scale. Something that tries to recapture that sense of child-like wonder and awe. On every Sunday in Lent, I will write a poem about something strange, weird even. Something that makes me feel like a kid again. A tyrannosaurus poem. A Picasso poem.
That is Saint Marty's Lenten promise. Amen.
Confessions of Saint Marty