The Weight of Dreams
I hear my father sleeping sometimes when
his breathing is loud and persistent and
I’m in the next room at the computer.
The night is a good time to write. The cars
have gone to sleep and darkness presses
it’s cold face against the windows.
My father talks in his sleep while I’m writing.
I can’t understand what he is saying. I know by
his tone of voice when his mother kisses him and
lights the birthday party candles. Coins she hid
in the cake mix, shine like silver stars.
Once my wife heard him thank Jesus and tell him
that he hasn’t forgotten. Sometimes his dreams float
on saltwater when he’s back in the South Pacific
which is almost every night. He’s in the best shape
of his life, playing poker and rolling bones on the
deck of the USS Cacapon. He might be walking the
catwalk during the storm that not everyone survived,
or watching a torpedo come directly at him, the one
that sunk just before it reached the ship and killed
everyone. It keeps coming back when he dreams.
So does the kamikaze pilot who ejected just before
his plane overshot the ship. His body crashed into the
deck right next to my father who was sitting on the
turret shooting him out of the sky. Sometimes
my father sleeps in his bunk down below. Sometimes
the water is full of blood and oil and body parts.
Once he saw a pilot land in that water right next to
his ship. There was smoke coming off of a wing.
The lifeboat was dropped and the pilot looked at my Dad
and smiled because he made it. He was still smiling
when his plane exploded and that’s the hardest part
of the story. My father never gave this a second thought
during the war but the pilot started coming back, still
alive in my father’s dream. The man died with a smile
on his face. He died and he dies again.
I usually wake up when my father wakes and wobbles off
to the restroom with his cane which sounds like a peg leg
when it hits the wooden floor. I think of Captain Hook
and Peter Pan, both alive in the same body. My dad sits
on the toilet with a long sample of toilet paper draped
across his lap. He pets the paper as if it were a cat.
If he falls asleep again, I have to wake him up. I can’t get
my father to take a walk with no purpose. He doesn’t
like to walk. He does know he has to hike through the
kitchen, out the back door, and down the sidewalk to
touch the gate before I’ll get his morning coffee. Sometimes
as we walk, he starts to sing a song he learned in boot camp:
you had a good home but you left it,
you had a good home but you left it,
sound off one-two, sound off one-two-three-four.
If the sun is up and it’s warm enough, he sits on the patio
with the morning paper. He reads it every day from cover
to cover, but he can’t remember a thing he just read.
It's Christmas week in the Pre-K special needs class.
Many of these kids are nonverbal. We’re practicing
the Christmas show they will perform for their parents.
The students are learning to shake the jingle bells
they wear on Velcro bracelets as they point up
at imaginary candy canes in the imaginary Christmas tree.
They mimic shaking a tree trunk. As each candy cane drops
to the ground, they sign how the candy canes all fall down.
That’s what we’re doing when we get the call on the day
before winter break. It’s a lockdown. We stop everything
and silently herd the children into a corner away
from the window and door. An aide pulls the curtains closed
another turns the deadbolt on the door to the trailer classroom.
That’s just a gesture. It's not much protection
against an active shooter in military hardware.
We're supposed to remain quiet now.
One student sucks his fingers and coos. Another begins
squealing and making happy noises. Although most of these
students are non-verbal, it's not easy to be silent and sit
in a corner at this age. Thankfully, they're still too young
to be taught the fear that older students are learning
from this exercise. As educators, we’ve been instructed
to make sure nobody says a word. We are all supposed to
just sit there, shut up, and do nothing.
Daniel McGinn is an old man who competed in the nationals as a member of the 1995 Los Angeles Slam team. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Nerve Cowboy, SurVision, Spillway, and The OC Weekly along with numerous other magazines and anthologies. His most recent chapbook, Drowning the Boy, won the James Tate Poetry Prize for 2021 and was published by SurVision Magazine in Dublin Ireland.