Writer in Residence · 12/07/2010

The Sleepers

AMBER SPARKSORIGINAL:

THE SLEEPERS

Ancient dreams cling like crumbs to the mouths of the sleepers. They mutter and twitch, chasing after phantom women, fragments of words, half-drunk goblets of wine. This is what the sleepers find outside of history: a weakness in repose for which there is no cure but dreaming. The dreams of men become akin to the dreams of all creatures, the dreams of dogs and horses and goats and pigs, rooting in the muck of the past and the possible. A sleep not death, but something close—a sleep like wishing for life.

To sleep is to be in a state of rest, but these dreams are rarely restful. The men—and they are always men—who dream them knew nothing of rest when awake. Their lives were mad and glorious and they were pure motion, streaks of flame burning through their own eras, their brilliance blurring all down the centuries except the fact that there was brilliance, there is brilliance still, lying dormant and deep under the dreams. For gold, yes. For love, yes. For lust, yes, for blood, for glory, for power, for country, for freedom, and sometimes just for the sheer dear pleasure of the fight, the fortune won or lost or defended.

Since the first sleep of Cronus, countless sleepers have pulled the centuries over them like blankets. Frederick Barbarossa under the Kyffhauser hills; Owain Glyndŵr in a secret corner of Wales; St. Wenceslas and his knights in Blanik Mountain, the Golem in the Old New Synagogue in Prague; Bernardo Carpio in the caves of Montelban; Bran the Blessed under the White Hill, facing France; Montezuma in the mountain; Charlemagne in the Unterburg; Merlin in the oak tree; and of course Arthur, alone in Craig-y-Ddinas, or with the three ladies in Avalon, or among the Eildons in Roxburghshire, or with his men among the stars.

They are many, even in dreams more than most, their names tucked into the hills and tilled with the soil of the ages. Only the oldest stones remember their faces; only the tallest trees still look upon their figures now. Their deaths could not be borne and so would never be; instead they folded themselves into a sleep as long and deep as legend. They became legend, their names dust in the mouths of their enemies. They became hope splashed across the stricken brows of their people, hope drunk greedily when all other waters had dried up. Buried deep in mountains or under the earth or in our oldest dwellings, they wound their way through the world’s channels into ballad and verse. They began to appear in visions, dreamer and seer tied by the long taut rope woven through myth and prophecy. You are coming, the seers would tell them, down the centuries you will ride until at last you reach us. You are coming to save us, they would say. And the sleepers would nod, and sleep on, and sleep on.

They are now forgotten, mostly, remembered in dreams and stories, through poems and song. They wanted to be forgotten, they needed to be forgotten—for the consequences of waking have grown too great.

Shut up so long in the same earth and rock, their stories begin to bleed together. They confuse themselves with their own chroniclers. And so, like Taliesin, they trundle out wild tales sprawling across the centuries and spanning many lands. I was there when, they mumble. I was there when we were all there was. The sleepers were mighty once, but now they have fallen into half-life; they are suits of armor stored in mothballs, cheated out of their final hours of glory. They linger in tragic, hopeful limbo and smell of ancient halls, of savage times and violent spirits, brought down by time and by the telling of their tales.

The sleepers will sleep for all time. They will sleep, because to wake is to quicken, to be roused and alert and alive. They will not wake, not yet, not ever, because with their waking comes the death of all dreams, the snuffing of all flames, the crumble and fall of those towers where men still wait for the sleepers to save them. Awake too late, in a sleep-deprived time, we dream but vainly of heroes. We dream in vain, for with their waking comes the end of the hope of the world.

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THE REMIX:

DREAMS

The snuffing of flames—
the dreams of all creatures,
secret phantom women,
for the sheer dear pleasure of Owain Glyndŵr,
the dust and mouths of dogs,
horses and goats and pigs,
the first sleep of St. Wenceslas
and his knights,
half-drunk and rooting in the muck,
the tragic Golem,
the centuries with the ladies,
Bernardo Carpio, his men
among the stars,
those wild, streaks of flame,
Bran the Blessed, savage, violent,
under the White Hill,
Montezuma, his lust for blood,
Charlemagne deep under the soil,
while ancient Merlin,
sprawling in the oak tree,
& Arthur, mad for gold,
alone—

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Remixer’s process: This was one of those remixes that came together very quickly. In fact, my first thought after opening the Word file was, ‘Why, this is a poem’, as given away by the language, the rhythms, the way the theme developed. Strangely, it now seems, I never thought of transforming Sparks’ entire story into a poem, rather, I focused from the start on gathering language around the sleepers.

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posted by Robert Kloss