Many Dreams: Or Persistence

To celebrate both the reelection of President Obama and the release of restored versions of the great filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life, I offer a poem, "Many Dreams: Or Persistence," written in 2008-9, around the the time of the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. The poem was first published in March 2012 in Scene4, from Seattle. It interweaves themes from the third film in Pasolini's Trilogy, Arabian Nights: that film's epigraph, "The truth lies not in one dream alone but in many dreams," and its last lines: "The beginning was bitter but the end is sweet." Arabian Nights itself is an allegory on the subject of persistence. It seems to me one of the handful of greatest films. I am grateful that, as I was finishing writing the poem, President Obama said in March 2009, "I'm a big believer in persistence."

The Criterion Collection has just released the Trilogy. Buy it! The invaluable Criterion also distributes another film, also mentioned in the poem, I Know Where I'm Going! (made in 1945) by the British team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the men who gave the world The Red Shoes, Stairway to Heaven, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and Black Narcissus. As the two were writing I Know Where I'm Going! , on a remote island in the Hebrides, Colonsay, which is the home island of the MacAfee clan, they realized the film's theme: "Kindness, not money, rules the world" -- words to live by. They become the epigraph for "Many Dreams: Or Persistence."

At the end of the poem are a few notes about it.

Many Dreams: Or Persistence
(Autumn 2008 to Spring 2009)

It is kindness, not money, rules the world.
--Emeric Pressburger to Michael Powell
on the meaning of their film
I Know Where I'm Going!


The truth lies,
not in one dream alone
but in many dreams.

Hearing the symphony
a crane in Turkey,
transfixed, delicately bends her leg

beneath the roiling sea,
beneath the tsunami
now I see

I hear
I hear the
Moscow symphony

listening all day here in
Greenwich Village
editing Gonzo interviews

to all Beethoven's quartets
on i-Tunes
beginning to end


o lion
kill me
for my love
is gone away

what? you
don't want to kill me?

you want me to
follow you to

the magic city
in Pasolini's
Arabian Nights)

in these new times,
as simple a change
as clicking the remote
from fascism

a big surprise awaits

she is the black love king


music of the death of
mother leads me to
one story after another

you tell me yours wherein
someone tells you hers
wherein someone tells
her his wherein
someone tells him
his wherein someone
tells him hers wherein

let us write great poems against
the invader and the occupier

civilization began here

the two rivers of life
from which comes all of us

I take my hand to pen
to clay to cuneiform
berry juice to cave wall
to keyboard

my sibling artists
it is good to weep
for our bloody world

the greenest meadows
after all
the greenest meadows

(the couple dance forever
in the green world beneath)

the greenest meadows
after worst battles
red soaking into green

don't blame the grasses
they take what they are given
they do not judge
drinking when they can

I realized I could
write great poetry against the invaders
even if from my own country

the truth lies
in many dreams

The Ring goes on 18 hours
a Chinese opera 28

from Persistence (1970)

I am an old man nearing the red
sandy hills of Afghanistan.
I'm into year 170
of my immortality.

I don't know what I'll be doing,
I can't imagine this future,
no one near at hand, only my
own society, own claws, the hills.

Sister Alice 1957:
at Baldwin School
near Bryn Mawr College

Alice writes two papers:
and "The Effects of
War on Men"

what was that?
Sister Saint
Alice of Baldwin
dead of smoking
1987 (age 48)

Michael and Emeric
dearest sister
on our clan home
isle of Colonsay

in I Know Where I'm Going
Joan Webster trying to
get to "Kiloran,"
actually Colonsay

kindness not money

o mio tesoro, mia vita

a little sea's breath
away from Dad's

o mio tesoro, mia vita
sing Poppea and Nero
Gwyneth Jones, Jon Vickers

Sister St. Alice led me

Now I pass once more
Father Demo Square
at Sixth and Bleecker

where I made a pact
one silvery luminous
winter solstice afternoon
sitting there alone

I was thirty, 1973,
at the center of
the whirling world

I will be here
I will write
"Italy '76"
"Pictures from Bosch"
"A New Requiem"
"I Am Astro Place"
The Death of the Forest
Life Begins Tomorrow
The Gospel According to RFK

"Life During the Coup"
"The Coming of Fascism to America"
"Many Dreams: Or Persistence"

I was there 35 years ago
making my pact.



Now comes that
Beethoven quartet, Gonzo,
a dance of grateful joy
heavy-footed Mark
danced when he could
still dance and I
remembered that dance of
thanksgiving heavy-footed
Ludwig wrote playing
in my head as I
learned I was not
soon to die at 42

I remember in 2008
the horror of 2000

& the joy
these days

age of taser

St. Alice
Saints Michael and Emeric
our clan the people of
ancient knowledge,
the people before the Celts,
the, well, yes, faeries,

today the 75
yr old
xmas tree
came to Rocky Center
fed manure
its long life
to be so

Gonzo first uses
"fear and loathing"
22, 1963

Eliot Weinberger
Edmund Wilson

Obama-like young woman
on subway, reading I Ching

it supplied first two
words, "The wanderer,"
of my first poem,

as Martin Amis
did for "The Coming of
Fascism to America"

("The information")
which Bob Holman
brought to the attention of
one Salman Rushdie

as Amis walked by

prunes and poetry

Joan trying
to get to Kiloran

the beginning was bitter
but the end is sweet

(end of "Many Dreams: Or Persistence")

Notes About "Many Dreams: Or Persistence":

The name of my father's Scots clan, Macfie, means "the people of ancient knowledge." The Powell/Pressburger film I Know Where I'm Going! is about a young woman, Joan Webster, who desperately wants to get to a remote island in the Hebrides, called Kiloran in the film, but based on Colonsay, the home island of the MacAfee clan.

Dunya is a character in Pier Paolo Pasolini's film Arabian Nights. The epigraph of that film comes from Dunya's story: "The truth lies not in one dream alone, but in many dreams."

The crane in Turkey comes from Nazim Hikmet's poem Moscow Symphony.

"Gonzo": as I was writing "Many Dreams: Or Persistence" I was helping edit a collection of interviews with Hunter S. Thompson published by DaCapo. I discovered during my edit of that book that the first time Thompson used the term "fear and loathing" was immediately after learning of the assassination of President Kennedy, a fact that appears near the end of the poem.

Copyright © 2012 by Norman MacAfee
reprinted with permission of Scene4