Bed is the most important piece of furniture in our lives. It is a place of healing when we’re sick, a place of delicious languor when we’re lazy, or meditative, or lost and inconsolable. We are born in a bed. We die in a bed. We have sex in beds. We listen to the radio in bed. We watch TV in bed. We stare at the ceiling in bed. We suffer colds and mumps and malaria in bed. We forget ourselves in bed. We amuse ourselves in bed. We explore shape and hair in bed. We climb into dreams in bed. We promise desperate change and forgiveness in bed. We toss and turn searching for sleep in bed. And when we find sleep we assent to it gladly and break from the world to go drifting God knows where.
I once visited Percy and Mary Shelley in Geneva, Switzerland in bed. I wasn’t in bed when I got there. That is to say, my body was in a bed, but my spirit was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the cottage that Lord Bryon had generously offered the Shelleys during their visit.
During my visit. My oneiric visit.
“How vain is it to think that words can penetrate the mystery of our being,” wrote Shelley in his essay “On Life.” “Rightly used they may make evident our ignorance to ourselves, and this is much. For what are we? Whence do we come? and whither do we go? Is birth the commencement, is death the conclusion of our being? What is birth and death?”
We dissolve into oblivion in beds, and in losing consciousness, gain the consciousness of stars.
We discover the basements and underworld fantasies of our true selves in bed. We read in bed: magazines, journals, newspapers, iPads, books. Beckett in bed. Burroughs in bed. Beattie in bed. Moby Dick in bed. Ulysses in bed. Guy Davenport of Da Vinci’s Bicycle in bed. Proust in bed à la recherche du temps perdu.
Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse sending its “sudden stare over bed and wall in the darkness of winter” floods my mind with light and shadow and the murmur of the sea in bed.
Rimbaud’s Illuminations illumine my mind in bed: J’ai tendu des cordes de clocher à clocher; des guirlandes de fenêtre; des chaînes d’or d’étoile à étoile, et je danse.
Shakespeare in bed: “O sleep, O gentle sleep, nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, that thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my senses in forgetfulness?”
And what mimics the sweet oblivion of death better than sleep? Isn’t sleep the rehearsal for that final sleep in which we exit the world permanently?
The memories of people who have passed enter our minds when we lie in bed and the mystic glitter of eternity permeates our muscles and relaxes and seduces us into something larger than our normal selves, the boundaries of our skin and limbs provoked daily by worry and the quashing chatter of remorse and frustration. We slide into simulacrums embarked on stars gluing raindrops together with the baked eyes of ravenous inner light and rise to our conscious selves in the morning wondering what is real and what is not real, what is it still stirring in us and will it crawl back into the night eventually or meet us again when our eyes close and we ascend, blithe and willowy, newly delivered to other worlds, other cities, other ecstasies thrashing in the linen of our secret sharers.
A bed is a sorcery of blankets and springs. Its suppleness bids us welcome. Its simpleness earns our trust. It is where we dream. It is where lips find lips and fingers find conceptions of skin that are smooth as the implications of cats, wicked as the trinkets of insinuation.
In France, if one goes bankrupt, the bailiff is entitled to take everything except one’s bed.
I love to sleep. Sleeping is my primary mission in life, my preparation for death, for the final sleep, the sleep to end all sleep. The sleep from which I will never awake. The bourne from which I will never return.
I am a candle in sleep, a column of wax burned down to the bone of the plate, a pool of wax and a tiny black wick, the last flicker of a flame snuffed into gentle wisps of smoke.
I particularly enjoy the two twilight states that accompany sleep: hypnogogia, the twilight state that proceeds sleep, and hypnopompia, the twilight state into which we emerge from sleep. It is in those states that I do some of my most important work, achieve some of my most important insights.
Thought processes on the threshold of sleep differ radically from those of ordinary wakefulness. Hypnagogia may involve a loosening of ego boundaries, openness, sensitivity, and a sweet, empathetic dissolution between the boundaries of the mental and physical environments. There is often a fluid association of ideas and a heightened suggestibility. Thinking turns supple. Pliant. Hypnagogic trains of thought turn abstraction into concrete imagery, or find abstraction in the concrete. Sudden éclats of insight and problem solving occur in these states between wakefulness and sleep. August Kekulé realized that the structure of benzene was a closed ring while half-asleep in front of a fire and watched molecules form into snakes, one of which grabbed its tail in its mouth, à la the fabled ouroboros. Visions, prophecies, premonitions and apparitions all emerge in this twilight world.
When I sleep I raise my antenna into the fireworks of dream. I am transcendentally amused beneath the blankets. I bump into stars and yell about feathers. I lay my knife down in the midst of the lobster recruitment. My skin is leather I am swollen and insoluble. I am soaked in railroads. The house is soft and unfettered. I do not deny my meandering. When we sew, we sew fire. I am literally mohair at the mailbox. And then I become music.
The piano agrees with a hit song. I dig it and strike it with my shovel. I personify myself with a hairbrush and include a little age which I shove into quarks. My glasses hit the glass of the window and it sparks a distortion of sound that tumbles through a voice shouting at a form of turret to enhance our collective memory. I float a bite of thunder in circles. I catalogue a moccasin behind the light. The ceiling convulses in exasperation.
I am your hirsute profligate palpable pronoun. The pronoun I, which diffuses into ink and becomes words, these words, which are brightness and wheels. I ramble in the sky below the cemetery. If feels explicit. I cannot escape the brass or the punches of dirt beneath my feet. I push the snow and yearn for you across the river. There is a mink caboose there that is eager in its reality and murders the mineral earth with its steel and carbon. I sugar a philodendron and the philosophers all cringe. They drill through a wall of stars and arrive in heaven bleeding tinfoil.
My desires embarrass me. I space my beard until it coheres into sex. Life is sweetness and elation on the vagina planet. My alchemy is the glue of development. I flail anthologies at the birds. My incentives are vermillion, my book is the waltz I perform on the water. I yank my throat out and scatter saga buttons at the taxi driver. My thumb is everything red that I lift to my sternum where it slides into vapor. A pair of friendly binoculars boils with Shropshire. I take my medication before I go to bed where extrudes locomotives and takes me to places where I can scratch my emotions with hypnopompic straw.
The first thing I do when I wake is make the bed. What a curious expression, make the bed. It is a little like making something. I’m attentive to the chaos of sheets and blankets and strategize how to make it smooth and harmonious again. A bed that appears orderly is an invitation to sweet, restful sleep. I like to tuck the sheets in at the bottom. When I get into bed it helps to produce a cocoon-like feeling. If my feet stick out I feel exposed. Vulnerable. I need to feel hidden, invisible, gone from the troublesome world.
The bed is a mode of transport. It is our vehicle, our spaceship into oblivion. It is where we welcome the bidding of our unconscious. It is where the sparkling cavern of our inner being lures us into its labyrinths. It is where we discover our secret selves, our shadow selves, old feelings that are suddenly and strangely renewed. Dead parents speak to us. Dead friends give us advice. When we wake, our eyes open and the light of day dispels the spell.