At Burning Man this year I walked into and out of so many dreams, it was like a dream drive through; a movie edited and spliced together sideways, where some of the frames were lived backwards and some were lived forwards; things that were entirely new in this lifetime seemed more familiar than the fields I grew up in and no longer recognize.
I once lay in bed with a boy and we asked each other questions. “If you could return to any moment of your life, which one would you choose? No thinking. First thing that comes to your head.” And my answer: I would return to this place. The desert, 2 am. My friend Pete is burning an art piece called ‘The Wave’. Hours into this evening- after John has written a fake burn permit, after Sergio has dumped gasoline on the driftwood heart of the piece, after we have sifted burnt coals and bits of glass out of the ash, after all of this- a ship arrives. It’s 42′ long, and made of welded metal. Its back end is a Spanish Galleon, and its front end is the flat deck of a ship. On it welded brown horses gallop in the direction of sunrise. They’re the ghosts of the last horses of the Nez Pierce tribe. Their mouths are open. Their dark empty eyes blaze through me. An indian chief in full headdress comes up out of the dust, and a hand extends from the deck of the ship to pull him aboard. “Are you coming?” a voice asks. John and I climb on, settle onto the backs of the horses as the ship starts to move slowly through the dust, out towards the sun that is rising.
That is the moment I would return to, that moment out of a thousand moments. The first thing to come to my lips. And this year, this year it came for me. I have not seen that ship since that sunrise in 2007. And this year, 2013, it’s Saturday night and I am wandering alone across the playa when I run into Pete. He’s just burned his piece, the party’s wrapping up, and he’s on his bike, about to disappear into the night. I give him a hug and watch him go, his long coat turning into moths wings against the lights of the city. I look behind me, and just out of the corner of my eye I see a ship. It’s back half is a Spanish Galleon, its front half is a deck upon which gallops a herd of brown iron horses, their mouths open in the same ghostly screams, their eyes dark sockets, holding everything. I climb onto the deck. The ship remains motionless. No indian chief appears out of the dust. I get on the back of each horse the way I would as if they were alive. They’re indian pony sized, their backs barely the length of my spine. I slide from horse to horse, as if by visiting them in the right combination I will trip a wire that will jumpstart the memory and make the scene move. But the ship remains immobile. I tear a huge rip out of the ass of my pants, and disappear into the night in the direction of a blue volcano, looking for friends.
Sunday night I run with a man from LA who calls himself JK. And by ‘run’ I mean walk, bike, fly, swim across the dusty coming-apart playa. This is my favourite time: the edge between creation and destruction, when the teaming human city begins to dissolve back into desolate alkali lakebed. We are out near the sound camps, or at least where the sound camps used to be. Off in the distance the speakers are still going, but where we are standing it is eerily quiet. The night before, this spot was filled with 10,000 humans and the throb of bass, art cars, a million neon lights. But now the street stands empty, dawn still far away. Just ahead of us, out of the dark, looms an unlit flat deck trailer. On it is a hulk of metal strapped ratchets, huge as a whale.
“JK!” I say to the man who is with me. “It’s the nose of a plane!” And I stop and stare, because something of this feels familiar. I remember seeing the plane earlier in the week. It was a DJ booth at one of the sound camps just near here. But something- somewhere- older than that. Think, Kera, think. And then I remember. I’ve dreamt about this plane. In a series of reoccurring dreams, I’ve been in the cockpit of this plane, flying into Black Rock City. The dream happens in a different part of the world- or rather, it is the playa but not-quite-playa, an alternative reality Burning Man that I return to again and again. In this dream the plane crashes. Sometimes when it hits the ground it’s still a plane, other times it’s a boat, a huge wooden seafaring ship that runs aground. In these dreams Burners arrive and cut up the plane/ship, rearrange its pieces into different orders. The cockpit becomes a radio station, the tail a tea shop, the midsection a patio restaurant. And now, this sawed off nose of a plane floats on the deck of the trailer in front of me.
“I am walking into a dream, JK. I’ve seen this plane before.” I turn back to him, back to the plane, back to him. “It’s like there is a dream version of Burning Man that’s going on all the time even when the festival’s not on that happens on some other mythic plane of reality- just like how the subconscious exists beneath the conscious mind, the unconscious beyond even that, the collective mind farther still. I feel like the real version of Burning Man just synced up with the mythic version of Burning Man- that both realms are now the same. Or that they managed to touch just for this instant.”
“Thanks for saying that.” He looks at me like it means something. “I’ve always felt that way about this place, but no one talks about it…”
We turn. To the North sits a giant ship, immobile and unlit. We walk to it. Up close the ship is huge. I’ve seen it from far off all week. It’s an actual yacht mounted on something with wheels, but it’s so well done it’s seamless. You can’t see wheels, or controls, or how it’s manned. Both the gangways are raised far above our heads. I hesitate for a moment, then jump and pull myself up until I can hook my feet over the first step. JK climbs up behind me. We walk onto the deck, climb again to the upper deck, and cross through the doorway that leads down into the cabin. I pull a flashlight out of my pocket, turn it on. The stairs are short and carpeted. Inside, it smells of stale air and motor oil. This is an actual ship. Its engine is still there in the half ripped open cabin. The rest of it has been gutted and covered in long brown shag fur. There are a few pole dance poles from floor to ceiling, and a bathroom with a sign taped to the toilet: Do Not Use. I’m feeling jumpy at this point, expecting at any moment to startle the sleeping owner of this amazing land-faring giant. We climb back up onto the deck, to the stars, the desert air. There’s a couple on the deck, who must have climbed up while we were below deck.
“Hey.” The guy says. “Do you guys care if we have sex on your boat?”
“It’s not my boat, so you can do whatever you want.” I look at the woman standing next to him. Knee high boots, raver top, yarn in her hair. “But we get the main deck.”
JK and I go to the bow, lie on the cushions and look half up at the sky, half over at the city that is unraveling around us. Another couple climb up, 2 gay guys, who give us beer because they think it’s our boat. They disappear below deck. I can see the beam of their flashlight descending the stairs. A few moments later they return.
“Did you know there’s a naked guy asleep on a shelf in the front cabin?”
“Wait, there’s a naked guy asleep on a shelf??”
No one feels like challenging this claim. Later, after the gay guys have run off to the last remaining rave and JK and I have talked ourselves out, I get up and walk to the Eastern side of the deck, where the sun will rise. The wind comes up and hits me. My hands are on the railing, the rest of me- soul, hair, clothes- flying out over the city. And I realize that this moment is another dream, a dream from years and years ago that had much grief in it. I was standing on the deck of this ship, at this same height, with this same view, looking out over the city with John, while behind me Pedone- a lover, who is now no longer of this world- climbed down from the sky on scaffolding and silks. He had stilts on his feet and I could hear them chunk chunk-ing as he descended, though there was no ground beneath his feet. In the dream I was torn between the sky circus world and the city below me, could not decide which one held my heart. Now I see that I have been given both. I smile, staring at my hands on the railing. Holding on. The wind kicks back around, lifts me higher.
I turn and go back to JK. Down in the sound camps, they’re mixing Dead Can Dance into some rhythm and I want to eat it.
“Do you think we can get down there before this song ends?”
“I think so- let’s run!” He looks up at me. For a moment his face is Pedone’s, and then it isn’t. And then it is. We turn our backs on the ship and move towards sound, wanting to dip our bodies in its wax, lights, love.