2010 Poetry Challenge

National Poetry Month

Peter Willowdown

Guardian of Dreams

'You no longer come this way as frequently
as you used to a mere handful of years ago,'
said the Guardian of Dreams to me one evening
as I stood on top of Three Dragons Hill
and watched the sunset colour the thin pencil towers
of the City of Glass away to the north
beyond a sea turned all to fields of shimmering gold,
albeit briefly, though somewhere in the Country of Dreams
the sea is always thus and men ride upon it
in chariots made of pearlescent shell,
pulled by dolphins, playful seals and exuberant Mer-children.
'I have been very busy of late,' I told him.
'I have many duties in the world that take up my time.
When I as a young man all the world seemed like some
marvellous dream to me and my sandals were ever eager
to tread the paths of Fairieland. Alas, these days
I seldom pass through the gates of the city
and when I do so it is on some tedious but necessary business.
But often I think back to earlier hours
spent wandering in the Highlands of Zith
or exploring little bays and coves looking out to the Outer Islands
and watching the coloured lights come on on little fishing boats
in the evening: green lights to attract deep squid,
blue lights to attract soonithoom fish
and bright topaz globes of wizardous fire
to arouse the curiousity of the seer-rays
for whose prophecies men will pay many coins
in the markets of Amber Town and Niss-ra-laat on the mainland.
Actually I am at something of a loss to know
just how I came here now, I must have somehow
dozed off in the hot afternoon sun...
it will not do at all, I have an important meeting
at four and is imperative I do not miss it...
Guardian of Dreams, return me at once to the Waking World,
this sunset is quite illusory, it can be no more
than two o'clock in the afternoon at least!'

'Peace,' said the Guardian of Dreams, it is your
earthbound notion of time that is illusory here;
that you cling to such linear thought-processes
simply demonstrates that you have been away far too long.
Stay and climb down the Nine Hundred Steps with me to Impish Town:
tonight is the Festival of a Thousand Lights
and the streets and plazas will be full of song and merriment.
There will be pretty maidens and handsome youths
from the Outer and Invisible Islands,
selling sweetmeats and savouries,
singing songs and telling stories,
dancing the traditional dances of their villages
and laughing gaily as they deck their stalls with
as many lanterns as there are stars in the sky!
There will be saffron fish and steaks of curried mimble-meat,
cakes of honeyed corn and rum-soaked raisins,
crescent bread and moon-loves,
persimmons soaked in eldritch nectar;
soothsayers, prognosticators and dream-interpreting spectres;
there will be talking cats and acrobatic mice,
giants from Fimbul Land and dwarves from the Horn of Lesh.
And if your heart is still set on business
you can trade the buttons on your coat
with the Frenetic Pymgies of Karbul-Karnak,
to whom buttons are second only to cowrie shells;
or would you part with the laces I perceive threaded
through the eyes of your soft shoes then the Secret Sisters
of Sardinopolis will give you a good price for them
although you will have to satisfy their strange carnal desires first
- but there are less pleasant ways of spendiing an evening;
as for your slippers themselves I know a certain Empress
who collects such things and makes palaces
of them for her families of miniature gold hamsters
- she is always looking for new and novel foootwear
and besides giving you their weight in gold-dust
will make you a Holy Knight of her Realm
and an honourary hamster, to boot!'

'What is this nonsense? I never heard such twaddle
- return me to the real world at once!
To think I used to spend so much time here
when I could have been brokering deals and making good money:
is it any wonder I have to struggle so much
these days just to make ends meet?
Dreams should be banned and the Gateway to their Country
sealed up with good solid mortar and bricks!
For better or worse the Athenian elders bade Socrates
drink hemlock, accusing him of corrupting their city-state's youth
but thou, O Guardian of Dreams, are, I deem,
a far more insidious enemy of the truth.
I repudiate thine and lies and tricks
- there is no Festival of a Thousand Lights this evening
and never will be. The Outer Isles you speak of
are but lumps of jagged rock inhabited by cormorants and gulls
and as for the Invisible Isles, bah: I will not even contemplate them!
Let me awaken, thou Master of Lies, thou vampire of verifiable sunlight
- I'll have no more of your mists and trickss
and coloured bubbles of dream
and if ever I find any of my children dreaming
I'll thrash them soundly and never mind their protesting screams.
Best to beat the nonsense out of them now
before it rots their impressionable brains.
Now then, quickly, where is the pier for the ferry
back to the mainland, if I'm quick enough
I can get back to the City by motorbus or train
and clinch the Glass Towers takeover!'

'Foolish fellow,' sighed the Guardian of Dreams
after he had gone. 'The ferry he is travelling on
will be sunk and all souls on it perish.
He would have been better traveling by dolphin,
by fiery phoenix or the cooler snow white swan.
But of course such creatures are not cheap
and must be paid with trust, belief and purity of soul;
they have no use for the base silver and gold
this one time dreamer has come to put his trust in.
It is a pity: at one time he showed great promise.
Thus I had at least to give him one more chance
although I already suspected he had lost his youthful ability
to surrender to the moment, so deeply have the
demons of conventional wisdom sunk their talons into him.
Happily his son James and his daughter Wendy
are already far more accomplished dreamers than he ever was
though I perceive I shall have to instruct them in secrecy.
Hmm, perhaps Socrates will also be attending
the Festival of a Thousand Lights this evening
- I will ask his advice, he has had considerrably more
experience since that unfortunate early incident...

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