By Shirley Wilsey

The bad dream came again
The giant with the axe
He was chasing me
All over the house
In the dark corner of the pantry
I hid. I was so scared

It was dark, like the nights
Before we got electricity
But the colors of things were bright
Against the dark
The giant’s red shirt
Was like his angry face

He had black hair
He was tall and strong
He was mad
He’s always mad
And he was hunting me
He always hunts me

He hates me. I don’t know why
He wants to kill me. I don’t know why
When I woke up, I told Mama
“It’s just a bad dream,” she said
“It isn’t real. It doesn’t matter.
Forget it. You’re awake now.”

I’m awake now, after many years
Decades of bad dreams, finally awake
To what was all along so obvious
My father’s indiscriminate rage
Spilling out in comic-book colors
Spattering like blood all over my childhood

I am awake now
I look out at a sunny landscape
At the clear, calm winter sky
One wedge-shaped stratocumulus cloud
Blue-gray at its base
(I know the clouds by name)

Contrails thread themselves
Among lenticular altocumulus
They weave and dissipate
Layered against the backdrop
Of thin cirrus lacunatus
That dapples the sky’s blue hope

One trail seems to do a vertical drop
From cloud to earth
It makes a break for freedom
Between two mountain peaks
Gateway to a West known only to God
And to those whose fathers loved them

I am awake now
I don’t dream of giants any more
I call my bad dreams nightmares
And try to interpret them
I have forgotten the language of childhood
The giant has been dead for fifty years

But sometimes, I, his child
Still cower in the dark house
Peer out between spread fingers
Hoping not to see
The red shirt and angry face
Of the big man with the axe



Shirley Wilsey, having survived careers as a teacher, a lawyer, and a technical writer, lives in Berthoud, Colorado, with her two cats. Her real job has always been writing, but she’s still learning how to make that her first priority. Given enough time and grace, she hopes to eventually get to the place, in writing and life, that she is supposed to be.

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