inside myself I’m often filled with shame;
shame is the fruit of all my clever ravings:
so are repentance and my knowing clearly
that every worldly pleasure is a dream.
Last night, a splendid dream. It was a dream of pure joy and remembrance. Often my dreams make me feel a hunted animal; one part of my mind searching for the other, not to soothe it, but to destroy it, or hurt it. For a long time my dreams have been pain.
But not last night. The reality of the dream, its color, its smell, the sight it gave me, felt like a welcome, unexpected visitation from some other realm.
I was walking down an ancient street. There was no concrete, only rough, worn cobblestones the color of old autumn mums. The street was narrow, more like a lane built for humans and horses; there were no cars. The walls of the buildings were pale yellow, cream, and grey. The doors were huge, arched, and made from either bronze or wood.
Time faded and receded. Only the wandering remained. The wandering, and, if I remember correctly (you know how dreams are), the rain. I was only a body, a body with sight and sense, with no thoughts to wedge themselves between my self and the ancient city.
Eventually I, or should I say my body, came upon a great square. There were cafes and people everywhere, and most of them were looking in the same direction, as if at a never ending performance, toward a marbled building filled with thousands of recessed statues and topped with a red bricked dome that seemed, from some angles, to cover the sky itself. The marble was green and cream and a pinkish red, and the doors leading to the building were a grand green bronze, so large as to be made for giants.
No one could look away. We were all gazing to understand, but we would never understand. But the lack of comprehension made us happy: there will always be mystery in the world, there will always be something to gaze upon, wonder at, and the puzzle will never be solved, only deepened. And this made my body thrill with joy. The people around me, in this dream, thrilled with joy as well. The whole square, looking toward the structure, strangers, but unified in the great mystery.
Upon wandering into the domed and marbled wonder, the place seemed larger inside than it did from the exterior. How could a ceiling reach that high? Higher than the human gaze, or perhaps even spirit, could touch. My body was pierced with cold and a darkened chill. I could feel the history of the bodies who filled that space, who had come to worry, worship, praise, perhaps even celebrate the mystery the building contained. The building was a home to a god, my body knew this.
Despite my frozen fingers and numbed cheeks, my body came more and more alive as I walked through the nave and toward the stretched dome. My eyes reached upward, and I believe, in my dream, that I might have looked like a Giotto Saint, all perspective lost but the praise.
After I walked out of the doors, the doors that dwarfed the body but lifted the mind, I walked with a steady slowness around the beautiful building. If walking could be stillness, that was the pace of my body. My eyes tried to imprint upon my mind every detail, every story, just as, I am sure, the long dead illiterate worshipers who came from many miles around learned from simply looking the stories of their god.
At this point in the dream I believe my body floated, not walked, toward a river. The day was arcing to a close, the rain was becoming but a mist, and there were lovely dark haired people hurrying in every direction. I was alone, deeply alone, but I felt the company of some unnameable force deep within my floating body. It was not happiness I felt so much as a shivering strength, beautiful for the contradiction of its vulnerability: at any time the force could leave me, and then the solid solitude would turn to bereavement, despair.
At last I saw the river. The river and a bridge. The bridge contained windows filled with gold and jewels of every color. The river was calm and oddly green. My body floated over the bridge, and continued along a long, elevated stone lane.
And that’s all I recall of the dream. Soon after, I woke. My husband lay beside me, and I could see the hibiscus tree I keep next to my bed leaning toward the morning light. Suddenly, I remembered: the dream was not a dream. It happened. It really happened, and this is what it feels like to be in Florence.