The Engineer's Notebook

image added by author

I woke up from another nightmare and reached for my notebook in the dark, but it was too late. The poem had vanished again.

Why it had chosen to reveal itself to me, of all people, was still unclear. I had never considered myself a writer, much less a poet. As an engineer, I was trained to build concrete solutions to concrete problems — and that was the least concrete problem I had ever faced. Every night, for the past couple of weeks, I had been having vivid, disturbing dreams and waking up from them with the unshakeable feeling that an extraordinary truth had just revealed itself to me in the form of a poem, only to disappear from my memory as soon as I opened my eyes.

I have been calling it a poem, but I wasn’t even sure of that. It could easily be a song, maybe a prayer. There were words and rhythm — that much I knew. I had gotten used to waking up feeling that the words were at the tip of my tongue, then hopelessly watching them disappear into an inaccessible corner of my mind. As for the rhythm, I could hold on to it for a few moments even after the words were gone. If I had trained to be a musician, I might have been able to find a way to capture it. With my current knowledge, all I could do was feel my body vibrating with the subtle beat of that mysterious metronome before it, too, met the same fate as the words.

If it had happened only once or twice, I would have been able to ignore it and move on with my life. Like I said, I wasn’t a poet. However, the same vivid dream and the strange awakening that followed it had been repeating themselves every night for several weeks. Fearing the effect the unwritten poem could have on my sanity, I tried to approach the problem rationally, in the way any well-trained engineer would do.

I started by doing a bit of research. Brief visits to writing and poetry forums made me realise that my haunting dreams were not at all uncommon. Several writers suffer from the same condition. Sometimes entire books would be revealed to them in their dreams, then vanish into oblivion in the milliseconds it took for the dreamers to open their eyes. It could be a frustrating, madness-inducing experience.

Further research showed me that there seemed to be ways to fight my condition. Remembering your dreams is a skill that you can develop with practice. In the past few days, I have been dedicating my first waking moments to a struggle against forgetfulness. I have been keeping a notebook on my bedside table to try to capture my dreams as quickly as possible before they dissolve into my subconscious mind. Sometimes I would go as far as touching the paper with the pen with a clear idea of what I should write, only to feel it disappear in the split-second it took for the brain to send its instructions to my hand. Once I thought I had captured a word but found myself unable to recognise what I had written in the dark. Those occasions were frustrating, of course, but I instead accepted them as signs that I was making progress. It would be only a matter of time before I could cross the thin boundary between dream and reality carrying the entire poem with me.

Last night it finally happened. The nightmare was more vivid than usual. I could feel every word of the poem burning my flesh, torturing me with their absolute truth. When I woke up, they were still there.

My hand moved as if under an enchantment, pouring the words directly from the delicate fabric of my subconscious into the concreteness of my bedside notebook. Even with my eyes closed, I could feel the verses filling up the blank piece of paper in short bursts, following the strange rhythm of the poem until the beat gradually slowed down and stopped, reaching its natural conclusion. I opened my eyes and glanced at the complete poem for the first time. Short, but enigmatic. It remained as mysterious as it was before I had written it down. It was the kind of work that would only reveal its secrets after years of careful analysis.

I tried to read it again, this time concentrating on one verse at a time in an attempt to grasp their meaning. That’s when I noticed that the poem had changed. I checked again and confirmed it: every time I looked away, the words on the page seemed to rearrange themselves to form a new enigma. It was at that point that I realised I was still dreaming. A dream within a dream. The thought filled me with despair. Would I lose the poem again?

Visual memory was useless. I began to read it aloud, repeating it to myself verse by verse before the words could rearrange themselves. I was in the last stanza when the sound of my voice became distorted as if I was hearing it outside my head. My wife’s voice was there, too, calling me from a distance. I was about to wake up, this time for real. I closed my eyes in the dream. When I opened them again, I was in my room.

“Honey, what are you saying?”

My mouth was no longer moving, but I could feel the words stuck in my throat. They would soon retreat into oblivion again. There was no time to answer my wife. I could barely control my flailing arms as I tried to reach for my notebook and pen, in the dark. I accidentally knocked down the lamp on the bedside table.

“Hey, are you alright?”

The words were gone. I closed my eyes and felt their strange, supernatural rhythm again, until even that disappeared and I was back in reality, in a dark room, staring at a blank page. I mumbled something to my wife and closed my eyes again, hoping the poem would disappear forever.

This morning, before leaving for work, I threw away the notebook. I never wanted to become a poet.


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