Notes on Oneiric Gardens: Watered in Retrospect

The following poem is actually a review in verse of Lillith Zone’s Oneiric Gardens, released in late 2014. You can get it and support Lillith’s work here

[TW: There are some references to blood and gore.] 

Across a narrow pond of blood a trashcan looks
like any other trashcan you might expect to see
in the chunky, broken memory of a 32-bit DOS game.
In this room there’s the blood and the blocks and demons
idly talk in low, indifferent baritones, working retail
because it’s Hell, so of course they are.

The blood squishes underfoot like vineyard grapes
and as I hop along, past grimacing blocks,
I know that I can’t possibly sink,
but the blood seems to stick; it seems thick.
It flows slow and gurgles like a maw, red and black
and then I reach the concrete floor.

From far enough away the flat looks full, the solid liquid,
and everything is less graspable the more I move towards it.
The trashcan bends like a paper cut-out,
like the houseplants (are they watered by the blood?)
and the limestone busts from the atrium,
their loving detailing only an illusion of depth.

In this room there is a museum, and there is
the video rental store, both housing relics:
A key, a treasure chest, an apathetic, horny cashier,
and an old CRT in a wooden case.
Press E to make Frankenstein or Dracula appear.

In another room, a hall,
a narrow walkway,
a short platform within
a swirling purple gyre,

and then an arcade
or maybe some kind of maze?
Blocks of black dotted
with chunky little neon stars

house slim and dim paths
that lead to the shuddering,
muttering alien geeks
and their secret language.

Retro, like video rental,
another distant memory,
just fading from reach
and lost within itself.

Now, as I exit the arcade—let’s call it that
—I realize this space is equal parts compartmentalized
and claustrophobic.
Memories coalesce like islands of nostalgia
from where i start

to where i end.
Things seem so different, disparate
from that room with the violet eye
where i spawned, to the vestibule with the waterfall
and the giant, cow-patched slug.

A jumble, puzzle pieces forced to fit together
like the carefully stacked blocks in that room
that looks like a miniature metropolis,
where skyscrapers made of blocks cry, “Ow!”
when with gleeful abandon I knock them all down.

Things only cohere insofar
as the chunky textures,
the blurs and jags,
unify them to one barely corporeal

I know the cry of the blocks,
the references to pulp horror films,
the dim, grimy vibrancy
of navigating the neon
space I recognize, but can’t put my finger on.

“Oneiric” means “of or relating to dreams” and it seems
that every game from LSD to Dream.Sim has a very different point of view
on what that’s supposed to mean,
and to whom.

In LSD the dream becomes the
process of individuation,
of formal adaptation,
of spatial alienation

and in Dream.Sim the dream is one deferred:
Wants, needs, ambitions, chugging,
starting and stopping, manifesting
in shadows of grey and of swirling sorbet.

But Oneiric Gardens is a mismatch,
a mixed bag of iconographies,
out of reach like in LSD but still bleeding,
still full of that deferred meaning.

I turn away from the ephemera
of pop culture nostalgia,
from those formative things we keep locked
in the psychic real estate of thematic relevance,
the loose association of sight and sound to feeling.

The waterfall rushes eternally and
in that final room eyes like smoke rise,
unending from the center,
the whole place bathed in a rich purplish-red, candle-lit, eldritch.
An occult appeal to a clean slate.

I know my fate must be to walk
into the cleansing fire of endless vision.
Fading out, then in, I awaken
to a clean and crystalline blue sky,
the sea and clouds on the horizon.

There’s no clutter, but a cluster:
Islands of grey, concrete buildings with sparse furniture,
beds like coffins,
and tacky, marine-themed carpeting.
Not clarity, but emptiness.

Gentle music lilts, sentimental, inoffensive while
the crystal mass of water moves, but doesn’t guide.
It doesn’t stick.
It doesn’t withhold, but it reflects the world around me.
But not me, because I don’t exist.

I move between the palm trees and the rocks,
the unpopulated condos.
There’s no secret language because there is no self to seek,
to grasp, no icon to compare it to,
no ancient rune with which to signify it.

I decide not to go back to the comforting chaos
of my own messy mental vestibule—
the trinkets of culture muddling up the place
—but to walk under the useless grey bridge
protruding from the shifting plates of water.

Pointing toward nothing,
signifying even less,
I turn to it and walk toward the clean,
coherent, safe and consonant horizon,
to the unreachable white clouds.

I turn around to face the cluster of yellow and grey masses,
to see them in their huddled smallness,
and I turn, and I do it again,
until they’re nothing but their own reflection in the mirror sea.
The more I slickly skate toward to the horizon, narrow like light at warp speed,
the less I can grasp at anything,
until the cluster is just a dark line, an implication
and the world behind me an island of distant memories.