Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Getting the Song Started

Poems, like songs bellowed and squawked at the tops of trees,
Belong up there in the air, riding high waves in the breathing of god,
Entering through ears alive to their sound,
Turning round and turning round
Through human fears and lost options,
Opening daises and blue crocuses in snow crusted brains.

Sing songs for the workmen hunched at dark benches,
For the doey eyed child afraid to leave home.
Breath in the flutter of birds to their nestlings;
Breath out hundred mile streams of unrest.
Make stories from barked orders and whined grievance —
High tales of new stars birthing like gods in the night.

— Oscar Handler, “A Bevy of Lies”, 1938

.... When I see them, they are standing in the glow of a soft, rosy light with feathered edges like some fabulously romantic close-up in one of D.W. Griffith’s silent film adventures. The soft focus lense gets cranked down and the camera moves in to capture - not an 18 year old Lillian Gish floating on the edge of a chunk of ice - but Erving and Miriam Polster in the kitchen of their little cottage on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, somewhere over near Case Western Reserve where Miriam was a doctoral candidate in psychology. (Erv was a practicing Gestalt Therapist, already much in demand.)

Their backyard was a fenced-in garden that led directly to the kitchen door. In my soft rosy memory glow I see that garden and the bungalow connected to it. Inside in the kitchen are a Formica and aluminum table and chairs along one wall, and on the other the sink and such - little more than a galley, I suppose, but it felt huge in their presence. The glow, I think, came from within them and it spread out to encompass all around them. It felt like home there, you know; the home, that in my case at least, had never actually existed.

You would have thought they had just built a nice fire burning in the fireplace intended to welcome you (especially you) into the library. But there was no fireplace and we were in a derelict, trashy neighborhood on the outskirts of civilization, where only students could willingly choose to live. If there was a real life glow in Cleveland, it was toxic.

I was 26 and Erv leaned over to me and remarked that Ira Progoff had accepted his invitation to come do a workshop on Dream Interpretation and would I be interested in coming.

Well, was I interested in coming!? Progoff did not then have quite the fame that he later acquired. He was just beginning, as were we all. But his hand was the hand that had actually touched the hand of Carl Gustav Jung. And in the hierarchy of great men that peopled my young mind there was no god greater than C. G. Jung. So I went. I was scared out of my wits, but I went.

I walked in, alone, into this barren room with nothing but a circle of metal chairs set-up in one corner. Somehow, I think, I had imagined a large lecture hall where I would be able to secret myself in the shadow of a back seat. But this was one of those bare lightbulb experiences where they are playing Good Cop Bad Cop only there is no Good Cop and you are the one under interrogation.

Progoff began by presenting a dream and, then, elaborating upon some of it elements using Jung’s amplification methods. So far so good, I was starting to relax. Then, suddenly, he stops lecturing and begins asking us questions. “Who,” he says, “do you think - of the several persons in the dream - was the dreamer?”

It was a silent room. It was a very silent room. It was silent room full of silent therapists. Not even Erv was speaking. And into this silent silence I hear myself pipe up, and I’m suggesting that the dreamer is the young woman who has undergone a transformation as part of the dream story. (I can’t remember what I said yesterday on the telephone, but I can recite to you now what I squeaked out in that barren room 37 years ago.)

Well, to cut directly to the chase, I was wrong. But I still somehow had enough ego left to drag myself off to supper after the workshop with Erv and Progoff and a couple of other men whom I did not know. The memory picture of us is framed, of course, by the cigar smoke that so often seems to surround these early life stories of mine.

A year later I was praying (though I didn’t know it) for the appearance of another light to show me the way home in the Dark Night of Overwhelming Human Experience.

But the warm light from Erv and Miriam did still fill my heart like candles of love and concern glowing in our midst and spreading out in the incredible life stories we share.

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