One sultry summer night,

the scents of buttered popcorn and cotton candy

and strains of merry music from a circus calliope

lured my husband,

young sons,

and me

to a neighborhood carnival.

Blinking red and yellow neon lights

and barkers in surrounding booths

swept us along, spellbound,

to a ride on a funhouse train

conducted by a grinning clown in garish costume.


At first, the twisting-and-turning roller-coaster tunnel

seemed exciting,

stopping suddenly at distorted mirrors

eerily lit by dim, green bulbs.

Then, without warning,

the nightmare train derailed in an ebon abyss.

The laughing clown crowed

and snorted his sympathy.

“Sorry! So sorry! This train is going — nowhere.”

A sinister smile exposed rotten teeth and glaring eyes.


An eternity later, the next train arrived.

To my horror, as I scurried to climb aboard,

the train pulled away

with my frantic family leaving me behind.

Desperately groping along dark and dripping walls,

I searched for something — anything —

to guide me along the steep, uncertain path.

Then — behind a jagged rock — I found a threadbare jacket.

Wrapping the cast-off coat around my shivering shoulders,

I discovered a book of matches in one pocket.

I ripped the book apart,

tearing and striking soggy stems and heads

in a frenzied effort toward some light.

Finally, defeated, I fell face-first

into a putrid pool where stray dogs drank.


At that moment, in that decaying den,

I smelled a sweet aroma.

I felt myself being lifted up by strong arms.

When I tried to wrestle free,

a stranger in a tattered trenchcoat

stroked my muddied brow

and carried me home to my grateful family.

Before I could thank him,

the Stranger had vanished.

Gone, too, were the dogs,

the chasm,

the clown.

But one thing remains:

in the closet of my heart

I see a tattered trenchcoat —

gleaming white.

(An actual dream occurring days after dismissal from Harris Methodist Hospital in December, 1995.)


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