“Dreams Without Sleep (Notes)”

Published in Gone Lawn 10 (Summer 2013).

Dreams Without Sleep (Notes)

I.S.O. Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

“And I will always feel, like those great damned souls,
that thinking is worth more than living.”

Fernando Pessoa, Always Astonished: Selected Prose, 1988

Immediately, I notice how big the sky is: so wide, and eternally deep. On mornings like this, when I notice things like these—the yellow that reflects in the fountain, the grey-green of trees at dawn—I often feel more vibrant, my fingertips cool but my core smoldering. But on today’s morning walk, after having slept for twenty minutes just before the sun rose, the people seem uniquely shadowed, their features blurring into monotony before my steady eyes; the leaves, however, the appearing sun, even the lampposts lining the blocks and roads gleam in a way that only I can feel.

One often wonders, when caught in streams of thought so unprovoked that they must be followed, how exactly the eagle—which dropped the fatal tortoise onto Aeschylus—mistook his bald head for a jagged rock in the first place.

Where else in the world could I ever conceive of being except where I wish I was? My ordinary surroundings are so repetitious that they are ingrained in my mind—therefore, however—disappearing from my mind’s eye. The few postcard pictures I do retain—filed away together in a far-off corner of my consciousness—are of places I have heard of where I will never walk: long-destroyed cities, the scorch of leather sandals under my feet, volcanoes and icebergs which shift and change, islands that exist only on ancient maps. No life exists in daydreams—nothing more real than this clay and flesh—but the only thing left in my waking life is dreaming.

Even the stars change over time, maturing like we do: growing brighter and duller until we fade, our glow only seen light years away from our remaining substance.

I spend hours in front of a mirror: one hangs above my desk, crisp and lightly dusted, the depths of which contain shapes I can never seem to find on the opposing walls. I stare behind myself, thinking of where these stains, visible only to the mirror’s eyes, may have come from: the wallpaper is smooth and clean.

More often than not, I resolve to take a walk after this mirror business ensues, pursuing the same route on which my mornings take me: past the bus station, the power plant’s chimneys, the darkened downtown buildings—all locked. The world seems hidden behind a veil of dust, catching light in ways that it usually does not; I walk with the same heavy, lucid eyes as in my dreams, trying to discern the stains lining the sidewalks.

There is an intensity that lives constantly in the present moment when one has lost the time for dreaming and those stories begin to steal your waking attention: the mind’s survival games….

My dreams are easier to translate than reality. Isn’t it only normal that they would bring more comfort?

A strange heaviness is resting in my belly, stretching its long legs, rubbing its swollen stomach. It spreads to my head, a hazy recollection of what I have not done: the scattered stones that should be resting securely in concrete along with the others I have stacked, and not in the wet dirt where they still lie. There is a tightening deeper in my gut that twists my torso and hollows my legs, immobilizing my terrified aspirations before they have a chance to take breath….

An impending beginning is tiring: the suffocation of ambition by the bony hands of fear.


I have found the beginning; now I must dig up the rest of my ripening words.

An air of mischievous glee always accompanies me to a friend’s house, when I get to experience a new place for the first time. I will wait until I have entered the house: from there, I begin to plan out the rest of their abode—down to the trim color—before I have seen even another doorway. I walk through the rooms just before we arrive in them—on the “official tour,” of course—and try to fix arrangements done incorrectly, each wall erected in the wrong place, pictures which don’t suit the colors in my head.

A certain delight finds its way into my fingers and I touch objects that I like, labeling them mine—by the rule of finders-keepers—even if I allow the objects to stay with their now-former owners. Just before the front door is again opened and closed for me, I look around and imagine my things—the ones formerly theirs and currently mine—clearing the floors, brightening the walls, filling the rooms.

I always leave smiling—my vision crisp—at having found a new place for my restless dreaming legs to roam.

When I wish to sleep, my eyes never tire; when I must forge ahead, my mind decides to hastily fade: before I notice, I am waking up, minutes or hours later, panicked, work still to be done—as there always is, threads left unwoven, paths never sojourned.

Something magic rests in the moment of tired realization, though—something that presses its warm neck against our hanging hand, rubs its calico face against our cheek—when I can feel my dreams swelling within my mind, pushing lean fingers into my attention span: disabling it. I often catch myself with my eyes averted, bleary with thought, my pen hovering above the page, until I realize my unconsciously-conscious state; I sit sculpted: a bent, distracted tree.

I clutch those moments of tired erasure—internal, expansive nothingness—as if my arms are spread and I feel no barriers, just a low, steady breeze that is cunning and warm touching every part of me. Just when I sacrifice my remaining mind to the tired intrusion, my eyes brighten, thoughts lucid, the zephyr having grown and moved the fog from those reaching arms, closed eyes: a dream begins, the dreamer building as he goes.

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