Thanks once again to Robert Lee Brewer for this prompt– “Mixed Up”–on his blog at Writer’s Digest. It’s the perfect construct for re-creating one of those maddening recurring nonsensical dreams.
[ANY SUGGESTIONS AS TO A TITLE FOR THIS ONE? I HAVE A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH TITLES.]
In this new dream of my grandmother’s house,
it’s been a couple years since she died
and we’re all gathered for another encore wake.
I am five or forty-seven, and as usual
in big trouble with a randomly assigned patriarch
for bursting in and waking the twin infants,
one of whom is mine; the other, me.
So I descend the stairs to do, as commanded,
more sorting and packing in my grandmother’s
basement store-room. I load one box for her fifties
(tubes of oil paints, big unfinished canvases, modeling clay
in unopened wrappers). Another for her sixties
(alfalfa pills for arthritis, photos of my little brother,
the nylon teepee she’d set up for me to lounge in with Nancy Drew).
Another carton for her seventies (herb seeds from her garden
I helped her harvest and dry, a huge steamer trunk she refinished).
Then it is her nineties and time for me to take her mail to her
in the nursing home, and in trying to find my way upstairs
I discover a basement room I’d never known about.
How can it, too, be lighted from the window
in the room I just came from that has no window?
In this new room are shelves holding my literary theory notebooks
and all my childhood Christmases ruined
by the feuding of adults.
The light, I find, is coming from yet a different room
joined to this one by narrow, steep, mosaic-tiled ramps.
I choose one to climb and am momentarily glad
the sticky airborne grease from my grandmother’s frying pork chops
has made it less slick. From the top I see down, way down
into the next room–a deeper cellar
with bright picture windows and a man
who is an aged Cousin Phil,
but who can’t be Cousin Phil since he’s the miscarried child
of the first wife, who was committed to an asylum
before she could rat on her perjuring ex–
yet that story is from my husband’s side
of the family. Still, here is ancient, impossible Cousin Phil
scrubbing with Ajax and a blue bristle brush
in the basement room that I understand suddenly
is where my grandmother took out everything, viciously,
on her small bewildered son.
And now Cousin Phil is scrubbing away the sticky porkchop grease
from the mosaic-tiled ramp that plummets
to this subterrain, and I begin to slip down it,
sliding at speed,
having exhausted my Freud and half my Jung
digging and sorting and packing and pitching
in this house where I never did live,
this house I will never move out of.