The best dream I ever had brought me joy. (My best friend of more than twenty years died. That’s not the dream; that’s real life.) The dream: The phone rang, a wall phone. I picked up and heard Matt’s calm, cheerful voice saying hello. How are things there, Mattie? I asked. Pretty good, he said (that was always his highest compliment). So glad to hear that, Matt, so glad that things are pretty good on the other side . . . and that dream was vivid, the voice, the clarity of the message, and the peace that stayed with me . . . long after wall phones, “(to think they’ve given him a phone in heaven).” i
In Book of Dreams Jack writes “All that we lost will come back to us in heaven,” and Jack recalls the sad days after his young brother died, “In the general family lostness, here, it’s like night Gerard died and the yelling relatives in the upstairs bedrooms” when “I must have thought it was the end of the world.” ii And Jack clues us in on his feelings “—and I wake on this bed of horror to a nightmare only life could have devised.” iii
The prose poetry starts on page one, “OH! THE HORRIBLE VOYAGES I’ve had to take across the country and back with gloomy railroads and stations you never dreamed of—” iv Maybe we never dreamed of, but we certainly accompanied you on those voyages, many times . . . “on the most awful fognight and rainwild walls of sea shroud ice haunted ships with tragic rigging wheel and keen in the drownable bay . . . and it’s always reassuring nourishuring to know in this dream the maniacal angels do gather in one lit spot.” v
All is not “dreamglooms,” vi there’s charming writing, too, “I’m late and walk up and down the corridors smiling realizing for the first time that I don’t have to go to high school at all because I’m a great writer . . .” vii Ah, to not have to go to high school, now that is a dream (having survived my own high school nightmares recalled in CBGB Was My High School) and to not have to go to school because you’re a famous writer, wow, that certainly is a dream come true. And Jack’s dreams go back to high school, Maggie Cassidy and the old Lowell gang.
It would be remiss not to mention that several dreams refer to inappropriate behavior toward young girls. That complicates the book, but in the words of Terence nil a me alienum puto, (I am human therefore nothing human is alien to me). A dream is a dream, not a reality acted upon. (Note: this is not an endorsement, merely a signal. Children need to be protected, end of soapbox.) But the sensitive Jack also writes about “little children doing novenas,” viii so such is the ebb and flow of one poet’s mind. The writing is raw, gentle, rough, original, a reflection of the fully human, fully flawed, lamenting man.
i Kerouac, Jack. Book of Dreams. (San Francisco: City Lights, 2001), p. 200.
ii Ibid., p. 25.
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…