Lately in my dreams my teeth have been coming out. They are not falling out like they are in most people’s dreams, but they are crumbling and breaking like buildings do in movies or like sugar cubes being muddled. Like all dreams I never know how anything gets started, and so I don’t know how they start to come apart, but in these dreams, like most others, I am lucid, which has a strict technical meaning for science but for me means that I’m awake without waking up. All of a sudden I hold my hands to my face and my heart sinks. I never feel any physical pain and I never discover what happens after. When I wake up I think my teeth are still broken, and the feeling I have is eerily similar to one I have when I wake up after a romantic dream, except of course that it’s dread, not pleasure. The dread lasts longer, but the hollowness that follows the pleasure is more disconcerting.
It’s easy for me to understand people who suggest that when we’re in our dreams we’re touching the unknown, or the more deeply known, which has been obscured for one reason or another. But I’ve never felt that way. All my dreams are all too familiar. Their ecstasy, or ambivalence, is never surprising. Once I dreamt I was Jose Mourinho and I was baffled, for what seemed like hours, only because someone had written out my notes in English, which was then illegible to me. Some time well before that I dreamt I’d struggled through a Kierkergaard lecture before I’d read anything he’d written. I woke up mulling over arguments and went to the library. His words didn’t sound old or common or easy but essential and automatic and after, even before I’d read long passages, they never seemed foreign. Once, while in Rome, I realized that I was dreaming and so I walked over to a motorcycle, which I don’t know how to drive and which always overwhelm me, and I grabbed it, straddled it and turned the throttle, tearing off through the city. Even though I knew what I was doing I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. In that sense it was as commonplace as anything else.
The literature of dreaming, just like the regular, commonplace discussion of them, never comes across as false. But both can come across as embellished and disingenuous and unnecessary. Dreams don’t come across as false because they are false to begin with (practically speaking and in terms of literary technique), which is not at all to say that they don’t have any truth in them but that falsity is in their nature. Falsity isn’t an evil in itself, but it makes the bed where evil sleeps.
I don’t remember when or how I began to read Swinburne. When I try it’s like trying to remember a dream. All I see are outlines of images, rough around the edges and endlessly moving. It may have been from Pound, who introduced me to all sorts of things I’d never have come to otherwise: the Troubadours; the grimy, worm-like part of Venetian literature; a certain way of considering the past. It might, though, have been from somewhere else, from a friend or a person I was falling in love with (this was a decade ago). I do know for sure that Swinburne haunts me, in the way that a pretty thing is haunting, and that I’ll never get over it.
At first I must have loved the titles because I put a lot of stock in a good titles-and Swinburne has very good ones: The Triumph of Time; A Ballad of Life; A Ballad of Death; A Ballad of François Villon, Prince of All Ballad Makers. They are absurdly broad, austere and almost awkward except for the fact that the poem that follows always overwhelms far more than the title, and not only does the title then seem appropriately grandiose but it seems slightly modest. And then it must have been that I felt like he was speaking through me, because around that time I felt like I didn’t have any words of my own and maybe I never do and for that matter maybe no one ever does but especially at that time I didn’t and couldn’t even pretend that I had my own words so I let his become mine because he seemed to need to repeat them over and over, even in the same line, in the way that I needed to repeat words silently to myself after I said them out loud.
Later that haunting would come, like all real haunting comes, precisely when expected. And at that moment of emptiness or eagerness or flightiness or anger or elation or fear that sprawling, sweeping sound of his verse returned. More than anything his poetry is a triumph of the ceaseless return. And it’s a reminder that we’ll never lose anything, not even our pain.
I suffer from crippling bouts of melancholy. So too must Jonathan Sanchez, in some roundabout way (it’s hard to imagine professional ball players being maudlin by nature), from the melancholy he’s been provoking in Giants fans recently. He got destroyed last night, in the same fashion (5 runs before the 5th) as his unfortunate evening with the Phillies last week. He’s now 0-4 in last 4 starts, which wouldn’t be so terribly, woefully depressing and melancholy-inducing but for a few glaring problems. 1) The loss dropped the Giants back a half game behind the Diamondbacks who have, this isn’t a typo, a +127 runs-scored differential with the Giants. 2) That the Giants’ runs-allowed differential with the the Diamondbacks is an encouraging -94 becomes less encouraging with effectively a four man rotation (Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong and Bumgarner) to keep those runs down; all of them, even Cain, have been occasionally erratic this year. 3) Sanchez pitching badly means…more Barry Zito, who has been even more dreadful this year than Sanchez but is likely still a better option at pitcher than Aubrey Huff.
I went to the final game of the Phillies series this Sunday. It was the day after Sanchez’s last outing and the faux-brawl that erupted after Ramon Ramirez nearly decapitated Shane Victorino. The crowd was edgy, angry and nervy in a way it hasn’t been in a long time. This season the Giants are expected to win, now. They are making trades to win, now. But they are losing game after game, now. Lincecum was pitching-pitching to avoid a four game sweep at home- and the whole stadium seemed to be leaning forward, with bated breath. He opened the game with a four pitch walk and the entire stadium started to sink into the bay. He recovered, though, and after allowing a run to Roy Oswalt settled into throwing strikes. The Phillies never really threatened after that. But the lingering unease remained.
Summer in San Francisco is famously cold. It’s moody weather, brooding weather, good for whiskey cocktails and sweaters, the sort of weather that inspires beat poetry. It’s the sort of weather that looks and feels like you’ve just quietly slipped out of first place in a soft division, and if you don’t crawl back the rest of the country might not notice.
There’s a small, closet-like French place a few blocks from my office. The bus I take stops a few feet away and on lazy mornings, when I don’t make coffee at home, I stop by to get a large cup of “French Roast” or “House Blend.” I put them in quotes because I can’t tell the difference; they are both deafeningly dark, bitter and rich. They each have that French quality of overwhelming you with a single subtle flavor, a sort of excess of pleasantness. What’s more, the women that work there have that French quality of not giving a fuck that you have somewhere else to be. They seldom have change, and even more seldom offer you to just take a cup and pay they next day. They always seem to be stirring something, or slathering something with butter or shaving cheese on something. Massive silver bowls overflow with blueberries, cream, candied, chocolate-covered orange slices and all sorts of coconut infused madelaines. No wonder they overlook the coffee.
So does everyone else downtown though: it’s remarkably hard to get a good cup of coffee around here. For a few months there was an Ad-hoc coffee shop set up in a bar half a block away, a satellite of a great company (who also send their beans to cafes in New York) and for a month or so it seemed to be busy enough for a place that took fifteen minutes to make a cup of drip coffee for people who have ten minute breaks. There are, however, two Starbucks on either side of the block (always full) and a handful of all purpose bakery-cafes (often full) close by. Then again, tucking a coffee shop inside a downtown bar, at the end of a narrow alley and having baristas with obvious cocaine hangovers probably wasn’t the best idea to begin with. Still, the coffee was great, if short lived.
Now I’m back to wrestling with the ham and Gruyere sandwiches and icy glares. Mostly, though, I make coffee at home.