The Sweeper Of Day Dreams

20 May

The following is my submission for ENO’s ‘Mini Operas’ competition. More info, and the original story by Neil Gaiman which inspired it, can be found here.

*

He sat in a dark booth,

The one at the back.

Nursing a coffee

Tepid and black.

I should’ve asked him to leave

Hours ago

But something about him intrigued me. So

I walked over.

The old man smiled

And almost looked glad,

Though his bloodshot eyes

Were incredibly sad.

He opened his mouth.

I recoiled at the reek.

Through teeth like cracked butterscotch,

He started to speak.

“I’m the sweeper of dreams.

Or I used to be,

Before the land of the living

Took over me.

Each dawn I’d clear up

Your nocturnal delights,

The fancies and fallacies,

The fears and the frights.

The darkness was mine,

The dream world my stage,

Swept clean for next time,

A fresh blank page.

But every day,

As the shift-end was nearing

I’d hear the same sounds

At the edge of my hearing.

Like a flapping of wings,

Or a banner unfurled:

The endless flutter

Of the waking world.

I ignored it at first

With the tasks in hand,

Phantasmagorical admin

Of the sleeping land.

Then one day my feet

Found themselves on the line

Of the hair’s breadth border

Between your world and mine.

I pushed back the curtain.

Just one little peek.

Then back home for breakfast

And what passed for my sleep…

There. On the ground.

Something shiny and new.

A fragment of day dream!

Well, what could I do?

I swept it up fast.

No time to waste.

Grey gulls were circling,

Diving in haste.

Small scraps at first.

Crumbs of regret.

Glittering like scales

In the mesh of a net.

The birds led me further,

Deeper and darker.

I followed their cry,

Without map or marker

To the gap between worlds.

The elastic white border.

Not Somewhere.

Just Other.

Beyond reason.

Past order.

I came to a park,

Sat down on a bench

And there, without warning,

Was struck by a stench.

I should have turned back.

Something was wrong.

But the sirens of wreckage

Struck up their song.

I walked in a daze

To the top of a hill

And saw spread below me,

A land of land fill.

The detritus of destiny.

Dreams bent and broken.

All the leftovers

Of things left unspoken.

Ifs buts and maybes

Put out by the bin-full,

Hopeless hopes

And desires branded sinful.

Single parents,

Their lives put on hold,

Shocked by the reflection

Of the suddenly old.

The lover’s virginity

Held back in thrall

For a god cavorting

All along through it all.

The mocked milling millions

Singing out loud,

Hoping ’gainst hope

To stand out from the crowd,

Seeking the spotlight

With stars in their eyes,

Dreams screaming like banshees

As they shudder and die.

Motorway systems

Of roads left untaken,

An ordinance map

Of the sadly mistaken.

A land green and pleasant

With hope’s fresh decay

And beyond it,

Wide seas of nostalgic dismay!

The work of a lifetime –

A whole new nation!

Rank riches

To one of my chosen vocation.

No wonder you long

To dream every night,

When your days are defined

By such desperate blight!

I gazed on it all

With a wild surmise

My heart all a-tremble

And tears in my eyes.

How could I go back

After all I had seen,

To my world of night visions

Devoid of their sheen?”

He finished his coffee

And pushed back his chair,

Fixing my eyes

With a hungry stare.

Like a shark

Tasting blood and sensing its prey,

A beast

Sizing up the next dish of the day.

“And what about you?

Why do you work here?”

“I trained as an actress.

Graduated last year.”

He grinned as he picked up

His broom from the floor.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

And walked out the door.

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