1080: Dream Song 14 by John Berryman

20240322 Slowdown

1080: Dream Song 14 by John Berryman


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I miss being bored. I miss idly sitting in a chair, looking out a window, wondering what next to do with myself. On 2214 Ingersoll Street, as a boy, I stared out over rooftops. I listened to street noise rise up to my bedroom. The sounds made me restless: sounds of kids up the block slapping a rubber ball against a wall or sitting on a stoop playing the dozens. I want my boredom back. I want the feeling of time as an endless desert — nothing in sight, nothing on the horizon.

Today, my life is busy: busier than a city intersection with a broken stop light and people dodging honking cars to cross the street; more frustrating than helplessly sitting in 12 miles of traffic on a major highway waiting for a collision to be cleared. My brain endlessly spins like the rotating drum of a huge cement truck, even while asleep, it seems.

Back in the day, when I had time on my hands, I spent hours daydreaming. Bored, I populated my inner life with people I didn’t know, celebrities who fueled my ambition to become, say, a basketball star or business mogul. I imagined befriending characters from books I read. I made up stories featuring myself on the other side of success, kicking back poolside on a lounge chair surveying the fruits of my labor. Those moments of ennui triggered my imagination.

Is it possible that an unerring drive eradicates any chance of true ease in one’s lifetime? That a quest towards career goals means maintaining a schedule that is always on “Go” rather than on “Pause”?

When not attempting to make a deadline, I incessantly contemplate writing projects. I wish I could adopt the attitude of a friend. When I asked him about works in progress, he sighed, and said, I have given myself permission to not write for a year, or more, and to live. I marveled at this liberty; all I want to do is pursue my art. I sat in his answer for a moment, pondering what it means to “live” as a writer in this day and age, and to achieve balance. What power to let oneself not be driven by what launched this sometimes-unattainable journey.

Today’s hilarious poem also embraces a life of ease, an unworried existence, a dream I can adopt after I finish writing this episode.

Dream Song #14
by John Berryman

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn, 
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no 
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes 
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog 
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving 
behind: me, wag.

"Dream Song #14: Life, friends" from THE DREAM SONGS by John Berryman © 1969 by John Berryman. Copyright renewed 1997 by Kate Donahue Berryman. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.