The Lyric Dream Project: Dream 1

I sit with my seven year-old niece in a hammock, strung between palms, looking over the Gulf. We are at the beach in Bonita Springs, where my family vacationed when I was a girl. My niece wears a mask and snorkel, but quixotically has on my jeans from high school, the shredded pair gilded with iron-on patches bought from a novelty store in Havre, Montana. There is the skull with roses blooming from its sockets; the oval, yellow patch with Pennzoil scripted in black. My niece speaks first about hard candy—how she boils and flavors the sugar, pours the syrup in cast-iron molds shaped like snowmen and wreathes, and passes it around to her classmates at Christmas. It smells like July. We watch the grey backs of prop-scarred manatees loll to the Gulf’s surface before us. Farther out, a party ship drowses across the horizon and we hear the echoes of a brass band drifting from its deck. My niece asks what happens when we die. I tell her If you live a bitter life you come back as a cottonmouth; if you live an impassive life, in death, you become a blade of Kentucky bluegrass, and if you live a life of love and wonder you return as a blue heron. I tell her I am the leader of the herons, so designated by the gold medal I find suddenly pinned to my breast. An Italian man in a diving suit wades in from shore yelling in Latin, something religious, indiscernible. I cannot move my arms to fend him off or lift myself out of the hammock to run. My niece is laughing hysterically. The man begins to shave my head and I wake up.