Last dream upon waking to grade: running from the revenuers through the cold, wet Mississippi woods with my mother, hell-bent on making it to the last rise to stop them overrunning our farm, after having raced through the house of collapsing chifferobes searching for a coat and a place to hide my children and my book on Nazi history from the thought police who were expected to make a visit to my grandmother’s house that day. There was thunder and sopping-wet waist-high ferns and so many children and Mama’s mama making choked-off biscuits in her giant wooden bowl and not seeming to notice the ruckus or our deer alerting on the troops heading our way on the double, and that one big heavy book. Treasured because it was the only one the thought police had left us from last time.
Dreams clean up reality. My mother is dead. Her mother is dead. Neither woman’s house was ever home to a collapsing piece of any kind of furniture or untidiness of any sort. Were either woman alive in such a situation, we wouldn’t be running to hide something, because they’d be standing at the driveway with rifles at the ready and the look in their eyes and every line of their bodies saying they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you, just dare you lay one toe across that line, and they’d do that without either woman ever having to utter a word out loud. I—their weenie offspring who has believed in and practiced nonviolence all my adult life (at great personal cost)—would be standing alongside them. The women in my family hit what they aim at. So, tell me this: Why in the hell are we letting the thought police shake down our whole world?
Clearly I am worried about how we’re all being muzzled to speak only whatever authorities nearby can stomach. Clearly I am unnerved by how many of us no longer speak up at all. Clearly I don’t believe (never have, never will) that a society can remain healthy if it has to throw all its horsepowers against dissent and difference and those who have outright questions about the gig’s present givens. Clearly I am sickened by how many good people are being put through the wringer at jobs that break them and don’t pay the bills, yet they must still censor every word for fear of losing even that. Clearly I’m fed up with those who have everything attacking those who have nothing and every living being on the planet to fill their coffers, with not just the blessing of the nation state but the aid of its weapons and g-men and -women out front. Clearly I’m uneasy about the state of learning and knowledge and civic memory in this era of buy-a-degree universities and the CEO-ization of all education (for the latter tolls death knells for critical inquiry and debate that are so necessary for a healthy body politic). Clearly I feel a cold night looming ahead for us all, if I’ve been driven to seeing the varnish peeling off the beautiful, sturdy chifferobes of my childhood, their contents in disarray and sheltering no coat or even sweater anymore, their legs and doors askew, splintering and nearly down, and no place to hide my book.
So I’m happy for dreams that speak truth to power and remind me of my raising and those parts of Mississippi that no one should ever do without. As my grandmother always put it, “I’ve got a backbone of steel and a heart to match.” Steely hearts, I once thought, were overkill. Wasn’t the backbone enough and couldn’t the heart be left supple and soft, amenable to change? Steely hearts care too much and are subject to outright disintegration in high heat. Weren’t they likely to just turn bitter or sour themselves? These were the roving thoughts of a dreamer who had not yet bumped noggins with reality hard enough. Someone who refused to pick up a weapon and stand at the driveway even when one was required, called for in the clarion tones of eternity. That was then. This is now. Now I know better.