You cannot psych yourself up to have an ecstatic trip. Whilst no one plans to have a bad trip. Psychedelic energy is very powerful and very unpredictable. What happened to me, third and final time round, was dark and scary without ever pushing me into depression or psychosis. (My theory is that people who suffer long-term traumas from LSD already have the seeds for trauma inside them). I wasn’t unhappy, nervous, some hopeless addict wanting relief or seeking answers for my troubled state. I’d always dealt with my sense of inner darkness by writing. Yet sometimes that therapeutic discharge isn’t enough. The darkness you explore has to remind you who’s really in charge.
(It’s important to preface this account by stating that in 1980 I was an active member of CND. With many other people I went on marches to protest about the placing of American Cruise missiles on English soil. I was also a volunteer at my local anti-nuclear power group for Kilburn and West Hampstead. Those activities partly account for the dark imagery that this trip revealed).
An English Dreamer 3 (Good Friday, 1980)
Two photographs lay on the coffee table. One was The Mountains (1921) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Volcanic fiery forces. Lots of lava reds and sky blues. The other was a black & white photograph of a bombed church in Hiroshima. I’d been looking at them, for about fifteen minutes, and my eyes were hurting. I closed them and knelt on the carpet. Inwardly I started to feel enormous vibrations, comparable to an earthquake, making me breathe more rapidly and my heart beat faster.
I half-opened my eyes and brought the Hiroshima image closer to my face. My mouth opened and the most disconsolate wailing came out. John told me that my distress lasted ten minutes. Yet this deep mourning seemed like a year’s worth. I sat back on the sofa to recover. My throat was horribly sore. John brought me a glass of water. I almost spilt it from the fright of seeing a horrible face in the carpet. ‘You’re the devil, but I’m not scared.’ I said. John looked perturbed, yet I told him I could handle things. The house keys, in my jacket pocket, began to rattle. I took them out and placed them in between the two images. Some notepaper and a pen also lay on the table. I’d been working on a poem that afternoon. This was a long poem about the nuclear age called Pikadon. I began to write more lines. “I want to enter my own fire/Into what hospital have I wondered? / Who is lying on this bed? / It’s me in another. / I refuse to imagine this thing.”
John’s bed could be seen through the open door to his bedroom. From his sofa I could make out a white pillow standing against the bed’s headboard. It lay on a red blanket. and was bent like a small figure bowing. Distracted from my writing I went into John’s room. Close up to the pillow I saw that its creases had given it a Japanese face. When I glanced back at my poetry notes they’d disappeared. Instead I held, in my hand, the medical report on a survivor of a nuclear attack. I put it down and sat on the bed. John entered with a can of Coca Cola. I asked him not to sit on the bed. He sat on a chair and slurped his drink. To my left was a reproduction of Turner’s Sun setting over a Lake. I went over and kissed the Turner. “I’ve kissed the sun and it didn’t burn.”
John spoke of the sun outside the house. I ignored him and continued to praise Turner’s sun. “Here is the centre of the fire.” I took up my notepaper. The report was gone. The poetry was back. I wrote more lines “Into night and fire/a dreaming wolf will lead you/ guard against its lair/ here are weapons/lying in distrustful silence.” I asked John for more water as my throat kept drying up again. The water only partly extinguished a fire in my throat. I then told him that I’d been reading the Brothers Grimm and the story that I couldn’t get out of my head was The Story of the Youth who went forth to learn what fear was. “I should really like to know how to shudder.” I said.
Needed to get to the bathroom. Had a pee, turned to look in the mirror and saw myself wearing a wolf’s head. It snarled at me and bared its teeth. I touched the glass. The mirror bit me. Then it had all my hand in its jaws. At first I couldn’t yank it out. The wolf was hungry. The wolf wanted its food. Its food was me and I was the wolf attempting to eat my own fingers. It took a huge effort with the other hand to pull of the devourer. When I did I rushed out of the bathroom. John sat me down and examined my hand. No blood, just teeth marks. “Alan, that’s Celtic for wolf hound.” I felt pleased to acknowledge this identity. Now I was beginning to understand how to shudder.
I took down the Turner and brought it into the living room. It shot out its rays causing the white lamp shade, and its bulb, to turn red. I thought it was going to burst into flame but instead a devilish face reappeared taunting me to write, declaring its power was greater than my words could ever be. I sat near the light, now casting an eerie red glow in the living room. Picked up my pen and notepaper. ‘Not like that” said the devil. “Other tools are needed” I knew it meant a living flame. I asked John for a box of matches. He was apprehensive. I reassured him I could handle things, that I wouldn’t set the house on fire. John handed them over. I struck match after match and lay them down dead in the ashtray. In the flame of the match I saw and heard people on fire from a nuclear attack. Men, women and children flared up then turned into blackened wood stumps. As I placed them down on the ashtray they twitched and turned as if suffering from radiation exposure. And in between the striking of the matches I tried to write. “To keep the wolf from the door / I strike a match / It smells of mournful flesh / Someone’s entered the box. / Reality’s the fire you keep stepping through.” I took three of the dead matches and tried to burn them again with a fresh match. They tried to heroically ignite but couldn’t. I grew impatient and stopped.
My body and the room were so hot. I had to cool down. Needed some air. I went to the back door and opened it. It was a full moon. A nursery rhyme started to re-write on my lips. “Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle / had an empty plate and empty spoon / As the cow failed to jump over the moon.” I mimed having a spoon and taking a large delicious mouthful of nothing. Next door’s cat suddenly ran across the garden wall. On reaching the end it grew larger and darker. Turned into a wolf and jumped back next door. I’d cooled down a little. I stepped out into the garden to get a fuller view of the stars. They looked so clear against the night sky. Recalled a bit of Rilke’s Ninth Duino Elegy, “Those deeply untellable stars” Kept repeating the words, fully understanding (not simply feeling) what they meant.
John told me the time was ten. Time seemed so immaterial. The clocks with their minute, seconds and hours were superfluous. And as for the moment of my death, the inexorable counting had begun since birth. I went to the garden gate and looked down at the countryside just outside of Cambridge. The lights of the city turned red, going out of focus almost melting. Cambridge appeared as if it was on fire, no more like burning remains after a conflagration. Fires on the plain. I felt such indignation that we had destroyed so much. I walked into the kitchen and switched on the light. I started to accuse the house, or the social forces that had made such a house possible. I knelt down and clasped my hands in prayer. “Nuclear family. Unclear family. Just go away and blow up. We don’t need you anymore.” I prayed very hard for the house to blow up. The kitchen started to glow, red then orangery brown accompanied by a great heat, almost reaching the point of ignition like newspaper beginning to brown from the flame. “Burn or explode” I kept crying. But it did neither. Got very close but pulled back. I stopped praying. “Later…later” I whispered. I turned to go back to the garden when I saw a potted plant on the step. I picked it up and smashed it against the garden wall. “I spit on your grave.” Only in my head, was the house was blown up in the manner of the explosions at the end of Antonioni’s film Zabrieske Point, where modern architecture was destroyed and the contents of fridges, smashed TVs and furniture moved in slow-motion throughout the sky.
In the kitchen John was making a meal. Preparing fish and washing potatoes. I asked him for a potato. It was green mutant with an eye with puss. Realised that there will be no edible potatoes in fields that have been radiated. The meal took forever. Hours and hours must have elapsed since John took the pan down from the shelf. He was steaming the vegetables, at last! The steam was intense like some hot fog. I kept glancing nervously at my watch. “We must eat! We must eat! Give me mother’s broccoli!” Still constantly talking. Mainly gibberish. I never appeared to finish eating all the food. After a few mouthfuls more food kept magically appearing on my plate. I told John that this is the funniest (hah hah & peculiar) meal I’ve ever eaten in my life. I laughed out loud at my culinary comedy. On eating a boiled onion I considered all its layers. Peeling away the identities that you present to the world to leave a void at the centre. Frightened I spat my onion out onto the book on the table. It was Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. Convinced that there was a reference to onions on page 237, paragraph 2. There wasn’t but discovered a haunting poem by Wordsworth called White Doe. Coleridge saw an analogy between the poem and a chapter in Bartram’s Travels in Carolina, “The soil is a deep rich dark mould, on a deep stratum of tenacious clay, and that on a foundation of rocks which often breakthrough both strata, lifting their backs above the surface…. I read page after page. John left me to it.
I returned to John’s bedroom and the bent pillow on the bed. Its ‘head’ looked more bowed in submission than I’d remembered. I pleaded with it to not keep bowing. That the Japanese have been conquered. And we had forgiven them. The photograph of the bombed Hiroshima church was by its side. I brought it up to my face to feel the full horror of the event. Almost screaming I pulled it back. Gradually my fear turned into hatred. I wanted to drop the bomb again…and again…everywhere. The wish consumed me. I threw myself to the ground. Gripping the carpet I cried out, “No! No!”
I passed out for…how long? John stood over me, asking me if I was alright. I was very thirsty again. He went to get me a drink. I sat on the bed and slowly coming round. John handed me a glass of water. After quenching my thirst what I most needed was music. John helped me up, but I was already much steadier on my feet. I made it on my own back to the living room. There I switched on the hi-fi and slotted in a cassette of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusick A moth wanted to join in with the charm of the piece. It kept hitting the window pane. I opened the window and let it in. Mozart was followed by more night music, Bartok’s Music for Stings, Percussion and Celeste. The red flickering light of the amplifier joined in the with the musical darkness. Whilst the finger, on the cassette player’s recording level, rose and fell as if registering the impact of a bomb blast. I was worn out and craved sleep. Wearily went to the bathroom. Inside the bath was a wolf. It was biting into raw onions. I brushed my teeth and had a pee. Only when I flushed the toilet did it stop eating and stare at me with a puzzled expression. I told the wolf I was going to bed, that I knew it was still inside me plotting but I’d had enough of it hanging round. Just before shutting the door it howled at me. I howled back.
John said goodnight and went to bed. I cuddled up alone in my sleeping bag that was as comforting as a protective womb. I imagined making love to a silver-haired moon woman. Male and female forces conjoined in my body and my head. Unity and balance. I dreamt of university. That I had to sit my finals all over again. Ascending the steps of an education office to request a further grant. My parents were standing outside the entrance, passionately embracing. I heard a pack of wolves barking. I woke up. Yet soon the darkness of sleep overcame me and morning arrived.