midnight special

Let the midnight special 
Shine a light on me.
Let the midnight special 
Shine a ever-lovin’ light on me- Lead Belly

The dream wasn’t about a train at first. Regardless, repetitive lyrics drowned out any dialogue as if my subconscious were dictating a script. The Midnight Special was a train that used to pass by Sugar Land prison where Lead Belly had served time for things he may or may not have done. The light from the train reportedly gave prisoners hope believing if the light shined on them through the bars, it was a sign they’d soon be freed. He was eventually released from prison and went on to write many songs which would be popularized and attributed to mostly white singers. Admittedly I woke up hearing the white man’s version and had to go digging for the source. He’s buried in a city down south where my mother had once worked for a garbage company.

We were on Beach Road; the stretch between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Like always, it was packed but since this was a dream the crowdedness was abnormally magnified and no one was there doing normal beach things. As if transplanted from scenes of daily life, people and families emptied dishwashers, made phone calls from desks, washed cars and unpacked groceries in the sand. If they weren’t looking at their phones they were preoccupied with unseen thoughts, worries mostly, which prevented them from noticing where they were and who they were with. Meanwhile the tide rolled in and out.

Well, you wake up in the mornin’, you hear the work bell ring
And they march you to the table, you see the same old thing

Next was gridlocked traffic. Instead of being parallel to the earth, the road was practically vertical and trapped under an overpass equally cluttered with frustrated metal. No one could get anywhere. My sister and I stood in the center of the motionless chaos watching drivers complain on cell phones while restless children climbed in hungry circles over one another. They all wanted to get somewhere but nothing would yield.

Ain’t no food upon the table and no pork up in the pan
But you better not complain, boy, you get in trouble with the man

Back on the beach a large plane flew overhead, gathering a smaller plane underneath it and they disappeared together. In an attempt to find out what was happening I walked away from the crowd to a cabin I’d seen once before. It had been a retail store but nothing of it’s former function was here now; re-purposed yet the structure was unchanged. Same body, new guts. Inside were generations of a family arguing over the only story history’s ever told. One thought she knew the answer or maybe was the most qualified to be upset about it. An old man passively laughed at her from a comfortable chair; his back was against the wall. Women of different ages prepared food at the counter, their backs to the others. If they’d stopped and turned to get involved, who would perform these tasks? Inside a closet which stood in the center of the single room was man who apparently had all the answers since the woman who knew everything kept going in there for special meetings. Over and over she went in looking distressed, only to come out with more instructions for everyone else which led to more questions. I watched her thinking how tired she must be. Trying harder won’t make the train come any faster. That’s when I realized the cabin was a station and the man inside the closet was a ticket agent. I walked around the closet, looked out the window and saw the wooden ramp leading to empty tracks.

Louder than the emptiness, self-consumption, competition, seeming injustice, ambivalence and fear was a conviction in the light.


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