The Round Table

by nicolecallihan

Last night I dreamed that one of my dear friends was keeping a hanged man in her closet. We were at a party sitting around a large round table, and Come here, she said. Now? I followed her down a corridor, and she opened the closet door. At first I just saw the man’s naked back; he had two small pimples to the right of his spine. Then I noticed he was dead. My friend smiled. I have one too, she said.

The day that followed was almost equally dreamlike: a jaunt to New Jersey. Sanj and I (and several other poets, including most notably weatherman Ira Joe Fisher) read poems at the West Caldwell Poetry Festival; Sanj may have made some people cry. Here she is, years ago, smiling:

In New Jersey, we, of course, got lost. Sanj’s Swedish lover and his Swedish parents sat in the backseat of the Yukon while we drove in circles. I kept smiling and shrugging, and they did the same.

The whole ride home–especially when the rain started falling quite heavily as we waited in line for the Lincoln Tunnel–I tried to forget about my dream with my other friend and the man in the closet, but it kept coming to me. After she showed me the dead man, we went back to the table; everyone was laughing and clinking glasses, and I understood–sort of faintly and with a kind of shame I can’t quite understand–that we all had those hanged men in our closets, that they weren’t ours to understand or ridicule or even to really think about all that much. Maybe their faint knocking against the wall is the only rhythm that quells us to sleep.

We’re given these moments, it seems–say at a poetry reading or a dinner party–and someone exposes their own hanged man. Look, they say, and so caught off are we by their honesty that we have no choice but to do just that, to look, and then, as if in a dream, we wander back to the round table not certain of what we’ve seen, just remembering two faint blemishes and the bony spine of an unfamiliar back.