pipe dream

The things that may be made with the blending of words… He knows the words; he tends them, he cultivates them, he cuts them here and there, puts one beside another, tries them out loud and in quiet, discovers in loud and out quiet that some simply don’t work together. And sees that some pairs produce something more or other than their parts when juxtaposed.

Here he tends a patch of pipe. These are words a little like reeds, but hollower: a reed has the membrane, you can see it in e, and it makes a more piercing sound. A pipe has length and hollowness – you get both views in p – and it does what it does by the unimpeded passing through of air, water, other fluids. The pipe and the air vibrate; you get a hollow sound, but one that can pierce.

That useful emptiness, that holding. A pipe is only a pipe because it can be filled, but never with exactly the same thing from moment to moment: it moves, it passes, it changes. It is the solid walls /p/ and /p/ between which is the “eye,” the hollow, the hole. But it also owns a silence, e. From the oldest times – back in Latin – this word has had to do with music, but the name has long been used also for tubes instrumental in carrying other stuff of life: water, effluents, blood, gas, oil, smoke. Sometimes lava. Blood vessels are pipes, and pipes are found in many organs.

He irrigates the pipes with pipes; he plays pipes for them; he fills his pipe and sits and smokes it in the quiet and watches the pipes grow. He dreams.

He cultivates dreams. This patch, here, a myriad of small joys, fancies majestic and minuscule. Some blossom, some come to fruition, some go to seed. He has a set of them in the corner that seem to come from different seeds: the Old English dréam, meaning “joy, pleasure” or “a sound of music”. They seem dreamy enough, but where did they come from? These other dreams, the ones everyone uses and knows, those are the fancies and aspirations we know, growing from the subjunctive world of the unconscious, and sprung from another Germanic root, the same one we see in German Traum – but though some dreams are traumas, there is no connection at the source; they are simply two dark flowers that look much alike.

Dreams come, dreams go. When you are asleep they pass through your mind like music through a pipe, and then they escape and are usually long gone by the time you reach for them awake. But some leave echoes. Sometimes you can catch the thread of the threnody. Sometimes you are aware, awake, and blowing in the pipe… but the dream will escape still, streaming away on the wind.

No. No, that is not how it happens. He puts pipe and dream next to each other, and he sits and ponders the phrase, inhaling. And he knows what flavour it has. He realizes that a tune you play on a pipe may escape you, but it reaches others. But what you inhale from a pipe goes nowhere but your head. It is a mere opiate.

He knew there was that extra taste. Pipe dream: such a pleasant pair of words, one crisp and one smoother, naming two lovely things, talking of another lovely thing that is ever evanescent, a hope far too removed from reality. A term that carries, then, some bitterness: it is used never approvingly, often insultingly. And it carries the sweet, floral reek of opium smoke.

Smoking opium is not like smoking tobacco; you do not sit and puff at leisure. Rather, you use a small amount and inhale it all at one time. The smoking is done within a half a minute. Then you recline into a bed of flowers in a beautiful meadow on the most lovely day of the year and all is bliss for a quarter of an hour. You may be in outer squalor; indeed, your chasing these opium dreams may increase your outer squalor. But they are so sweet.

Yes. Put this in your pipe and smoke it. When what you smoke is opium, you have delightful dreams. You float on clouds of fancy. Your outer form is inert; you romp through inner worlds that have no issue. They are nowhere, will go nowhere, will take you nowhere, though they are so nice. These… these are pipe dreams.

He tastes the two words together. They are well blended. They produce such flavour. He knows where he can use them, and how. He has the genius; he will put it to work. He has plans. He inhales, smiles, relaxes.

My source for some of the information on opium is Opium: A History, by Martin Booth – read www.nytimes.com/books/first/b/booth-opium.html to learn more. My source for the etymology is, as usual, the Oxford English Dictionary.

5 responses to “pipe dream

  1. >> … but though some dreams are traumas, there is no connection at the source; they are simply two dark flowers that look much alike. <> Genesis 19:26 — But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. << Some theologians have difficulty with this passage because the "punishment" does not fit the "crime".

    The Hebrew phrase that is literally translated as "pillar of salt" is NaTZiB MeLakH (nun-tzadi-yod-bet mem-lamed-het). This is an idiom that was probably borrowed into Hebrew from a language where it meant "pillar of salut (health, strength)" as a euphemism for thrombosis. Compare Aramaic SaGi NaHoR, literally "full of light", as a euphemism for a blind person.

    The "back from behind" means that we must look at this phrase backwards from the other end. Doing that, we see kHaLoM BoTZeN, literally, to be strong/healthy + like mud. Giving the het its ancient W-sound, this kHaLoM may be cognate with English whelm, as in "overwhelmed by". By the time the Romans were in Israel, the het had an X = KS sound. So kHaLoM would have sounded like ek-SLaM (a severe blow). Mud-struck.

    If you really believe Lot's wife became sodium chloride, then I own a bridge you want to buy.

    Israel A Cohen
    Petah Tikva

  2. Whoops. The following text was omitted near the beginning of my comment above because I used left and right arrows to enclose what others wrote.
    = = = = = = = = = = =
    The Hebrew root for “dream” is kHaLoM het-lamed-mem. It is a homonym that also means “to be strong, healthy”.

    I think there is a connection of sorts between the Hebrew word for dream and trauma that explains what really happened to Lot’s wife. She did not turn into sodium chloride. She suffered a stroke, (Greek) thrombosis. The “throm” in thrombosis is cognate with trauma, a stroke. The “bos” is cognate with Hebrew BoTZ = mud. In this case, mud in a pipe (artery or vein). She was mud-struck. Paralyzed, unable to move, as if stuck in the mud.

  3. This is a test only

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