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Adrie Kusserow   


Langtang, Gosainkund Pass, Nepal — bedroom, Underhill, Vermont

Mandala of the Forms of Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom by unknown Nepalese artist

In Langtang, there was no dream, only the fog moving in while trekking toward the pass, until I couldn’t see the yaks five feet away, or the yellow beaks of rhododendron pushing up through the snow. Once again I had strayed off the path and my group would be pissed. I slept in a dilapidated retreat hut, small as a doll’s house, the rats crawling over my zipped up sleeping bag til I punched them off like potatoes with my fists. The next morning the caretaker monk with the scarred cheek told me he had a dream I would visit him, but I knew I was just lost. He was using the dream to make me stay. I had never thought of dreams as that solid before, raised in a place where the hierarchy of reality is based on materiality. For him the dream, as real as wood or stone. So I considered committing to the weight of it, let it pin me like a paperweight on my flighty self and stayed an extra day. In the morning, he brought me salt butter tea, started rhythmically slapping his hands, his eyes glistening fiercely, breaking me into what he called the luminous ice of unknowing. I was hungry and cold, every time he slapped, I winced from his shock therapy. He kept telling me the slapping would wake me up from my dream. At least that’s how I remember it now, but it’s hard to keep the past from wriggling out from under the present’s gaze.

All day long I watch the snow fall, the single crow on its perch is the only punctuation mark I’ve heard all day. Across the field, a fox pounces for a mole as if in a cartoon and my heart is buoyant as I watch it flip and flop, hurl itself nose first. Downstairs my son is trying to find a tune on the piano. I can tell he’s riding the notes, without trying to control them. Something is flowing through him that is not entirely himself. You can tell when someone has quieted their mind enough to follow the pull of something larger. From my bed, my antennae prick up, the hair on my arms is the first to sense another presence. The notes rise up through the ceiling and soothe.

Day five of quarantine, someone told me to analyze my dreams, but I refuse to mop them up with pop psychology, put them in the tiny stuffed cages of the American traumasphere. I love the way they leak into present reality. They comfort me in the way they seem to come from everywhere, but me. What a shame if they arise merely from the individual body. How lonely that would be. Maybe in sleep, with the mind’s government soldiers off duty, the non human, the shadows, the collective past floats in, if we’re lucky.

In Buddhism, when you reach a place where the world seems fluid, like a dream, something you can swirl your fingers through, so little inherent substance to anything, it’s a good thing. Like finger painting, to revel in the colors and textures, bold glops and streaks, the pungent smells mixing and merging, the giddiness of freedom, before the canvas dries and we’re trapped.


About the writer:
Adrie Kusserow is a poet and anthropologist teaching at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. Kusserow has two books of poetry published by BOA Editions, Ltd as part of their American Poets Continuum Series. Poems and creative non-fiction have appeared in The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Sun, Prairie Schooner, Green Mountains Review, Plume, Juxtaprose and many other journals and anthologies.

Image: Mandala of the Forms of Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Transcendent Wisdom by unknown Nepalese artist. Distemper on cloth. 33 1/16 x 29 1/8 inches. Late 14th Century. Public domain.

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