Posts Tagged ‘night’

Waking Up in a Dream

June 8, 2018


I worked for a year as a handyman at the power station of Bethlehem Steel in Burns Harbor, Indiana. One day the foreman sent three of us into the fan duct of a boiler that was offline for repairs. We entered through a small door on the side of the boiler. In order to see, we hung up a work light plugged into an extension cord that was plugged into a socket outside. Inside was a little ledge we could sit on before the duct became a shaft that dropped to the fan below. When the boiler was operating the fan blew air up through the duct we had entered into the furnace to feed oxygen to the flames.

Our job was to sit on the ledge and knock off as much scale as we could reach. Not an important job, but the boiler was offline and the boss didn’t have anything else to do with us that day. Certainly it was a better job than cleaning out fish remains from inside the reservoirs under the water pumps.

One of the other guys was doing the regular rounds on the working boilers. He stopped by to look in on us. Being a junior Einstein, like the rest of us, he realized what great fun it would be to close and block shut the only access door to the duct. In the process, however, he also moved the extension cord and loosened the plug in its socket. Our only source of light went out.

The three of us found ourselves in total darkness sitting on a ledge above a drop into a narrowing shaft leading to the blades of the boiler’s fan. In such a situation you must remain cool, joke about your entombment, and plan your revenge on Junior Einstein. I do thank God I was not alone. The voices of the other two helped orient me.

A half hour later Junior returned full of mirth. He swore he had not known the light had gone off. He said he was sorry. So we all went back to work. But with our eyes wide open, not for safety issues, but for a good chance for payback.

Two or three nights later, the dream began. It is always the same. I am trapped alone in total darkness. I can’t figure out where I am. I panic. Stumbling and bumping into things, I begin to explore. In the dark I come up against a wall. I grope my way along the wall trying to find a light switch or some way out. The dream ends when I find something familiar and realize where I am or when someone else in the house turns on a light to see what’s going on. Then I am revealed with my hands creeping along the wall of wherever it is I went to sleep. I am not sleepwalking. I am fully awake when I get out of bed, but the world around me in the dark room continues the world that was around me in the dream. I am awake but still in the dream.

It has been forty-seven years since I worked at that power station, but at times I still wake up in that dream. It’s strangeness has gotten me banned from staying at friends’ houses. Ever since the dream began, I have always tried to sleep with some source of light. Ordinary dreams can be very unsettling but when a dream crosses over into the waking world it is a living terror.

The dream is always with me, somewhere in my mind, waiting its next rebirth, waiting to slip out into my waking world. The dream lives on as a part of me, and we will remain together until we die.


Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer.


The Lighted Hall. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

The Lighted Hall. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

A Long Street

July 23, 2017


When I am walking at night and my shadow stops,
it is too late to turn back.
I scuff my shoes on the concrete.

Around the water tower nighthawks are dipping for moths.
I gaze at the lights
and there is nowhere to go.

I sit on the curb and stare down the street.
It is a long street of houses and yards and parked cars.
There is nowhere it will take me.

My shadow lies on the concrete like paint.
It has stuck to my shoes
and I can’t kick free.

Across the street a dog barks through a fence.
No one comes to the door.
He sniffs and wags his tail.

In my pockets, I have four dimes and a set of keys,
but there is nothing to buy
and no door my keys will open.


First published in Cottonwood (formerly Cottonwood Review).



I seem to have spent a lot of my life walking, especially at night. I grew up on the 20-acre remains of an old farm in northern Indiana. Since I had both an older and younger sister, it often seemed a good idea to escape for a walk around our property. But I wasn’t limited to our twenty acres. We lived in an over-sized section. One mile by one and a quarter miles. The road had been shifted over to avoid going up the middle of a long wetlands. There were a few houses along the outside, but the whole middle was woods, pasture, small marshes, and ponds. If I was in serious enough trouble with my sisters, I could wander for hours.

When I went to college, I walked everywhere I needed to go. At that time, most college students didn’t have cars. When I had trouble at school, with my classes or with my personal life, I walked around at night, especially when the fog came up from the river. It seemed symbolic. I went out walking almost every night my freshman year. Sometimes I woke my roommate up when I came in at dawn. When I felt lost, it was better to go walking than to sit like a lump in my room.

Walking is still one way I find myself and cope with life. For the last ten years, I have had to walk most of the day five days a week for my job at the store. And even there, among all the pages and shoppers, it has been a way to find myself. I have been finding myself by walking, ever since, as a preschooler, I ran away from our house to find solace walking along the edge of our marsh.

I find who I am inside by walking. It helps me become aware of where I am in my life. But as far as where all this walking is taking me, of which way I should go, well, I still have not a clue.

The Bernie & Viola Smetzer homestead in 1956.

My childhood home, taken for an aireal canvas of county homesteads in 1956.