Two friends of mine and I started a shared google doc / dream journal during the first days of quarantine. It was a way for us to feel close in our time of solitude, and it gave us an outlet to express our subconscious fears and anxieties in an incredibly scary time as deaths kept rising, grocery stores were alarmingly out of stock, government guidelines contradicted themselves daily, our bank accounts were dwindling, curfews were put in place, and any normal sense of reality the world had ever held seemed to be flaking away day by day. We all knew we needed to keep ourselves and our friends and our families safe, and social contact was the enemy. My dreams seemed to be offering me the only clues for further reflection, and I’ve selected a handful of mine to share with you, here.


Me, Matt Smoak, and a couple that we’d both become friends with through our summer job wanted to hang out one last time before the summer was over. The man from the couple flew hot air balloons. We spent the morning together playing on the beach and in the water, getting really sandy. It felt as though we were the only people on earth. The guy had a couple hot air balloons with him that were kind of busted in some way, but we were all playing around with them. The woman wasn’t a pro, but through her boyfriend she knew how to work them pretty well. But like, the flame thing was broken on both of them, and so were the baskets. They were ones he’d used for work at some point that had gotten broken over time, and he just “thought I’d keep them in the trunk of my car to play around with in times like this” kind of thing. We’d all be able to get off the ground a little bit, and we decided we’d try to race each other back home with them, but we didn’t get very far. The teams were me and the woman vs. Matt and the guy. Finally, the guy got too frustrated that they weren’t working well enough to even really play with, which was true, so we all stopped. So, now we had to walk back home, and it was a very far walk., maybe 15 miles. Sand and dunes and hills all around us. No people, no roads etc. The woman said to her boyfriend, “you know, at one point, a long time ago, there were only like 900 people on earth. TOTAL.” The guy thought about that for a minute, and shook his head with teary eyes, and she said “and everything actually probably really looked exactly like this,” motioning her arms to where we were. In the loose dry sand, it felt as though we were walking in place. But, as we walked further it started to get foggy, the landscape began to change, and the boyfriend was able to do these strange visual tricks in the fog, like shadow puppets in the air. We were all really impressed except for Matt, who seemed oddly smug about the whole thing. Like he knew how the trick worked.

We continued through the fog for the entire rest of the way back home, which continued further into a forest-like setting, and we got to a paved road to walk along. I was walking with the woman, and the two guys were ahead of us someplace but we couldn’t see them because of the dense fog. All of a sudden, maybe 6 feet in front of us crossing from left to right was a man dribbling a basketball – like a phantom basketball player made out of fog. As if it had solidified into a three dimensional person, running and dribbling a ball. Then he was back, from behind, running and dribbling away from us. It seems this was the trick Matt knew how to do with fog, why he’d been unimpressed with the shadow puppets from earlier. We all asked how he did it and he eventually explained that it had something to do with drawing in the fog with three-point perspective rather than just one or two. He then did another one where he made these large empty picture frames, big enough that we could step through the middle of, that appeared to be made out of thick chains, but really they were made of nothing but the fog around us. We were very impressed. While no one was looking I went and tried to touch the chain, and I was able to pull on it like it was a rubber band, which I figured somehow revealed the mechanics of the trick to be false, that it wasn’t just air and fog. Matt caught me doing it, and he said it didn’t reveal any falseness at all really, but instead how well he was able to turn the air into exactly what he wanted.

I still wasn’t quite convinced, it seemed like a magic trick, like he was talking through a grin, but it worked really great.



Annie Stone and I are vacationing in a mid-sized coastal town in Spain. It is all very touristy, but very cute. The town is hosting a “gallery night” where all the art galleries around have coordinated to have an opening on the same evening. We think we saw Meryl Streep in the passenger seat of a car at a stop sign! One neighborhood in town has an option for people to get around by walking on the flat roofs of the buildings rather than on the sidewalks. So, as tourists, we decide to do that. Roof to roof, like the way the old plague nurses used to do. We get to this hipster butcher shop / bar offering samples of beer, and we stop to rest our feet and have some. I can see, piled up on the roof of this butcher shop, a pile of dead human bodies behind a low cement wall. The kind of wall one might build to hide garbage cans from view. Maybe a dozen people. Their skin had turned completely black and leathery, like bog people. They all are wearing straight black cheap Halloween wigs, the color perfectly matching their skin. I can see a man’s face with no eyes and a beard, and his beard is also a straight black wig, like a bad costume. They are all wearing faded orange linen robes, like members of a cult.

I quickly sit down on the bench with my beer, and debate with myself about telling Annie what I’d seen. I decide do tell her, but I plead with her not to look. She says she has to look. I say no she doesn’t. She stands up and walks across the roof patio, looks back at me, then peeks over the wall and sees the bodies. She doesn’t say anything, but walks over to the corner and drops her beer into the trash can, then calmly walks back and sits down next to me on the bench.

We get up to pay for our drinks and leave. We rush down the stairs to the checkout counter, and the butcher is asking us to forgive him for the appearance of the shop, that it’s a bit under construction, being new. He is in his early 30’s, is very friendly and charming. Asks how we liked this new beer etc etc trying to be a gracious host, to get people to come to his new business. Annie says “$5.50, was it? Right?” We’re trying to skip the chatter and get out of there as soon as we could. We pay him and rush out feeling very jittery.

Walking, we’re wondering why there are dead rotten bodies on his roof, beyond the obvious conclusion being that he killed them and is butchering them for his shop. And that maybe he is also a charming cult leader.

We come up with maybe instead it is just storage for some local anthropological dig site. They need his large coolers. It’s the best alternative we can come up with.



I’m traveling alone, visiting Martha’s Vineyard for a little while, and I’m by far, at the age of 43, the youngest person there. In a fussy little shop full of little knickknacks and antiques, I meet the owner, a lady named Martha Vineyard, just like the island. We become fast friends. Eventually I meet some of her other elderly friends there at the shop, and one day when there’s a little group of us there chatting and gossiping around the counter, Martha says “oh my gosh, look what I have…” and she pulls a ceramic platter off of a shelf in the store that has 4 sheep painted on it. Above each sheep their name is hand painted. The first sheep was Don, then Molly, then Ben, then Martha, lined up in a row. I realize all 4 of us have recognized our own names on the platter. I say to the old man, “Oh wow, my dad’s name is Don.” He says to me “funny, my son’s name is Ben!”

Later in the dream Martha commissions a painting from me, and she asks for me to use the colors rust, dark green, and chocolate brown. The painting has something to do with her dying. A gift to herself. It’s “her last painting,” her friends say.

When I go to leave the shop I can’t find my shoes. Everyone coming into the shop has to take their shoes off when they go in, and mine aren’t by the door where I know I had left them. I try to put on another pair to wear as I walk around the store looking for my own, but the customer whose shoes I’m borrowing notices, and follows me around, wondering what I’m doing, worried I’ll try to leave with them on.

Then I find a room, it’s a “lost and found” of shoes. Tons of them all lined up in maybe 20 rows, like a cemetery, I think. The whole floor of the room. I eventually do find a pair of my shoes there, but they aren’t the shoes that I had worn in. They’re my rubber snow boots, and they’re covered in dried mud, but they’re definitely mine. So, without asking questions, I put them on and leave.



The weather is beautiful today, it is sunny but not hot, and there are a lot of people outdoors enjoying the day. I’m in a city, maybe it’s Tokyo, and everyone speaks English but they are from countries all over the world. I have a job selling fabric at a fabric store and as a drug dealer outside of an ice cream parlor. Everyone has at least two jobs these days. I sell some sort of tiny little white pill, like half a tic-tac, and all it does is make people laugh for about 20 minutes. I have friends that work at the ice cream parlor. We all have really crazy Japanese manga cars that we drive around town, with every single window a different color of glass, with hologram rainbow tinting and lights. Mostly we just sit on the bench outside the ice cream parlor and watch all the fancy dogs that the people of Tokyo own. Really elaborate haircuts etc., and I am a virtual encyclopedia of dog breeds. I can tell anyone anything about any kind of dog. At one point one of my friend’s dogs is walking with us, and it’s the size of a caterpillar on a leash, and I’m scared I’m going to step on it because it keeps walking so close to my feet.

Later, I am a teacher at a boy’s school, and I’m hanging out in a large dorm room with 4 students. They’re in their late teens. They live in the attic of one of the old buildings. The school is way out in the country, in Scotland maybe, rolling green hills all around us. Pete Buttigieg went to school here, and the boys are talking about him saying he’s on campus today to give a lecture. Then the world ends. Now it’s me and Pete and an older woman who works as a secretary in the school’s main office, and we are trekking through a barren landscape. We come upon a village of mud and adobe homes but there are no people around, and eventually we get to a huge cliff where we can see really far, and it looks like Lord of the Rings with all the scary mountains and valleys and lightning and lava down below us. Pete and the woman both agree that we just have to keep going higher. I say “Higher? There is no higher, we’re on the edge of a cliff, we have to figure out how to get down, and then make our way through the valley.” They both agree that it’s way too dangerous to try to do that. “We have to keep climbing up.” But I say, “Aren’t we going to have to go down at some point though? Why go higher now? This really feels like we’re going in the wrong direction…” I know going through the valley will be fine, it just looks much worse than it is from where we’re standing.



I’ve left my apartment to go live on a commune with a group of people in the woods. When I get there I see my friend Heidi Ho, the drag queen from RuPaul’s Drag Race, and she is not looking very healthy and is not in a very good mood. It felt more like I had just walked into one of the first 13 colonies. Like I was in Roanoke or something, bad, rotten, sour. Nutrition was bad, supplies were low, people were hungry and dirty… Everyone here had come for the wrong reasons, and it obviously wasn’t working.

I end up taking a lot of walks by myself now, the place is surrounded by huge fields with tall grasses and trees, but it often feels like there are other people out with me that I can’t see, in the tall grass, following me. Once when I left to go on a walk, someone asked if I could bring back blueberries and blue corn chips. They were kidding, there were no snacks. 

Part of this commune butted up to an old cave with two ends, more like a naturally formed stone tunnel. It was pretty tall. Randomly spaced inside the cave-tunnel are fist-sized holes in the wall that constantly have breeze either blowing in or sucking out through them. Maybe 8 or 9 of these holes. At some point in the past, before all these new people came here, someone had built little brass pipe holders, and attached them to the cave wall in front of each of the holes so that the breeze blowing through them would always keep the embers burning in the bowl of the pipes. When people walk through here now, they’ll pick up a few different pipes as they pass, and take a puff from a few of the different flavored tobaccos.



I was watching old tv show bloopers on youtube, and there was a video of a recently found “lost” Seinfeld blooper, so I clicked to watch it, and it was a scene that was being shot on a big wooden deck behind a beach house. The house was on the left, then the large deck in the middle, and there were steps on the right that went down to the beach. It was all on a big sound stage. A party scene had just been shot, and the director and crew were telling all the extras and the actors to go on out to the beach while they set everything up again for the next take, the deck needed to be cleared off. There were a lot of extras, it was a big party, and slowly everyone began walking to the steps to go out on the beach, but they were all chatting and laughing and taking their time, and the camera kept rolling. I started picking out faces in the crowd: there was an old woman, there was a group of ladies in bikinis, I saw “Elaine” talking to a crew member looking at papers as they walked, I saw “George” talking to some guy as they slowly walked, and then, in between the people of the crowd I saw a figure standing in the very far back of the set that wasn’t moving, just standing there looking at the camera. I could only catch glimpses of this person in between all of the other people, but somehow I had a way of playing the youtube video in slow motion, and I could zoom in – and when I did I got a clear view of a man that was hiding in the background of this crowd scene, wearing a black suit, with a mechanical silver robot head and face, wearing a perfectly combed brown wig. He could see me watching him through the video on youtube, and I was terrified.



I have to drive a rental van into San Francisco, and I’m heading toward the Golden Gate bridge. The car is full of people from out of town, contestants on a reality tv show, and I’m their driver. Sometimes I’ll say something like “Tonya lives right down there!” as we drive above her apartment building on the freeway, and then Tonya’s face will come up on the “screen” and she’ll say “Hi! I’ll see you all later tonight!”

As I’m driving I can see that the ocean looks huge, it goes way out for miles and then curves up above us, turns into the sky, then circles down behind us. Like we’re on the inside of a ring of ocean.  At one point the freeway becomes a floating bridge across a very large expanse of water, it’s like we’re driving right on top of the water, like the road is a floating raft, and I’m a bit concerned I’ll freak out about it and have a panic attack, but I seem to be ok with the floating bridge, there are a lot of cars, and we’re all driving very fast, there are no problems. Then, when we get to the Golden Gate bridge I start getting anxious, and I’m wondering why I’m the one driving, I do not like driving over bridges (I really don’t) and it feels like we’re very high up in the air, and I’m looking ahead down the road, down the road onto the bridge, and it looks like this superhighway with hundreds of loops and exits, like a super-wide, shiny, slippery silver ribbon.



There are two houses on either side of a large field. I walk across it, from one friend’s house to another friend’s house. Some wooden steps take me up the side of a hill, up to the front porch of the second house. This house is at the very top of the hill, but you can’t see it because it’s behind trees. Once on the porch, I can see Elaine through the screen door, and she pushes the door open for me and gives me a hug. I say “long time no see,” and she smiles and says she’s been eating a peach tart in the kitchen, I should eat some too before it’s gone. There are people here that I know, visiting from out of town, and we all say hi. Friends of friends, I don’t know them well. The house is mid-light, no electricity but not dark out yet. A mid-evening light, no lights on. Someone is playing guitar and singing quietly in one of the bedrooms. The door is open, down the hallway. I think there are three or four bedrooms, and visitors are staying in all of them. It’s not an empty house. One level, old, and it’s used for people visiting, for friends of friends. A guest house. I go into the kitchen and a small woman with very short, very blonde hair is rubbing some Vick’s Vaseline on her wrists and I say ooh I love that stuff and she says “me too.” I rub some on my arm and sniff. Elaine asks what it is, what it’s used for, and this lady tells her. Elaine shrugs and takes a big dip of it, puts it on a hairbrush and runs it through her hair.

Everyone is about to leave to go over to the house I just walked over from, on the other side of the field. I think I must be here to pick everyone up, let them know we’re ready for them to come over now. I try to put my shoes back on by shoving my feet into them, but they’re still tied and I can’t get them on. I need to sit down on the couch and do it right, so I do, then go down the steps and out into the field.

Because of the time it took for me to put on my shoes correctly, I’m walking by myself, behind everyone else, and we’re going back to the other house, which has now changed into an indoor/outdoor bar that is open on one side like a big garage, or like car repair place. The side toward us is open, and I can see inside. I can see that my friends are the only people there so far, and they’re standing around the pool table playing “strip pool,” like strip poker, but shooting pool. Many of them are already almost naked. I walk in and see Guy Pettit, he’s not playing pool, but instead sitting with a drink at the bar. I sit next to him and say hi. He says “you’re so coy…” while smiling. I say “coy?” He nods. He says “you love a good fight.” I ask “Do I?” He nods and says “like that day on the beach….?” I say I remember (but I don’t, actually) and say “well… that’s a totally different story….”

Later, I was driving a car and riding my bike through hilly East Davenport neighborhoods. and the roads are very icy and I’m sliding all over the place. I have to take the garbage out, down a long path from a house to the road for someone that lived in the house, where I am housesitting. Then, I go for a walk around these two big stone mansions in the neighborhood, up above the Mississippi. I dreamt my family at one point lived in one of them, it was the house I grew up in maybe, and it was intensely haunted and scary. Like, it had always been saturated with ghosts, and there were some parts of the house that we didn’t even use because of it, where the dead people lived. SO MANY dead people. We just pretended those parts of the house weren’t even there. Like, on the 2nd floor, the entire left side of the house was locked up. We wouldn’t go in there, but originally it was my space. Where my room was. We had to close it up. But really, the whole house was haunted. I could remember parts of the house while I walked around outside in the yard a bit, and I was feeling pretty scared. Now the house was empty, and people were looking at buying the house next door. Like part one of this dream, it was two houses separated by a big yard. I was now both outside walking around in the yard with the new prospective owners, telling them about our old haunted house next door, and inside of it, watching them from the window.



I’m in a South Asian country and it’s hot and humid. I’ve hired a boy to be my cricket trainer, for my professional sporting cricket. At sunset I rush back to the stadium stepping over scorpions all over the sidewalks to tell the boy & cricket to spend the night there, because it’s still very hot out, and there are a lot of scorpions on the sidewalks.

On my walk back to my hotel hut I stop and watch a puppet show depicting stories of the history of the country I’m visiting. It is a huge production in a large oval theater with people sitting all around it. It’s like Cirque du soleil. And also like a circus where there are many stories going on at the same time. They are telling the stories of military battles, it’s very sad and dramatic and everyone is crying, me too. The final story is about the town where we all currently are, where 100 years ago they had a messenger come tell them that this beloved farmer 5 miles away was being harassed by evil thugs, so all the men rushed off on their horses to go defend him – but it was a trick, and they had left their town defenseless and the thugs came in and killed all the women and children and burnt it to the ground. Everyone in the audience was very upset. Somehow the stadium where the cricket games were happening played a part in the story too. It was a historical landmark, the only building in town that hadn’t burnt down.

When I got back to the hotel, my parents were there too. I had my own bed, but we were sharing the room. The lights were off but they were lying awake talking. Just then something my dad said set off the Alexa, which thought he had asked something about S&M, so it started giving all these resources for S&M techniques in the middle of the night, very loudly, because my dad has terrible hearing so has to have the volume turned way up on everything to the highest level. My parents started laughing really hard. After they got it turned off, my mom told me a female friend of mine had called and said they were at some bar, she didn’t get her name. She asked if I was going to go meet her and I said no, I was exhausted, and I laid down to go to sleep.

It has been revealed that I was smuggling a very large box of lemon flavored white chocolate candy in a homemade false seat underneath my real plane seat, through India, & through Honolulu. The false seat was made out of foam and fabric and glue, all kind of sloppily made. Like a craft project. It was very obvious that it was not a real plane seat. When I got busted and they opened up the big hidden chocolate box, most of the candy had all been smashed up, and was melted and stuck on the inside of the lid. So it was all just a total waste. I took the risk, but ended up getting in trouble for nothing.



I am one person in a group of maybe 15 who were going into an old unmapped territory. Lush fields, canyons, forests, etc, at a natural scale, but it all felt built, and not natural. We were undercover, and searching for trees that had been planted as grave markers, looking to find the bodies of an earlier group of our explorers that had come here before us, to recover their bodies and bring them back home. The trees they had planted to mark their own burial/death spots had grown tall. It had been many years, and the trees were all mixed in with the forests that were native to this place, so we had to search through them very carefully, looking for our trees.

At some point during this recovery mission the story flipped, and now we were looking for our own spots to bury the seeds we had brought with us, to mark our own grave sites. We had all gotten sick. There was a woman who went off on her own and we couldn’t find her, but we could hear her. She was saying “Come get me! Come get me!” But her voice was soft and muffled and it was kind of foggy, and we couldn’t see her anywhere. Then, like a movie, it’s a shot of all of us walking single file over the foggy hills, with her voice overdubbed saying “I came here knowing what I had to do…. I needed to go into the ground…. I wanted to go deep into a cave…… that led deeper into a smaller cave….. that led even deeper into the ground, and into a smaller cave…..  that led to an even smaller cave…. until the opening is just big enough for me to crawl into and fit my body into the silk worm-pouch… then once inside of it… deep underground, one of the thousands…. there will be no difference between my body and the silken pouch, there will no longer be a hollow cavity inside the earth… my body will fill it perfectly.”



I am part of a group of people that trade “new age” music cassettes through the mail, but it just happens that two members of the swap group are visiting my town at the same time, and we decide that the three of us should meet up and make a swap in person, while they’re here. We’ve never met before, we just know each other’s names from the long list of people we send and receive these music cassettes with, online. And none of us have seen other people in a really long time, so we’re excited about meeting up and seeing each other.

There are two versions of the following meeting. First, there is a version of the meeting where we meet up in a beach parking lot. I drive my car around the parking lot looking for their cars, and I notice that the sand is starting to creep really far onto the pavement, that the edges of the parking lot really need to be swept back. Then, there is a version of the meeting where they come over to my apartment, and I have a joke that I’m going to tell them while they’re both there, after we’ve made the swap.

I’m going to say “Well, now what should we do? Do you want to… suck my blood?” I think it’s a funny joke, but I’m nervous that they won’t think so.

Ben Estes grew up in Northern California and Iowa, but currently lives in Kingston, NY. He wrote ILLUSTRATED GAMES OF PATIENCE, a book of poems published by The Song Cave, and THE STRINGS OF WALNETTO ARRANGEMENTS, the first book of poems published by Thurston Moore’s press Flowers & Cream. He is also the author of the chapbooks CYMBALS, 8 POEMS, THREE FOLDED POEMS, and ANNOUNCEMENT FOR A POEM, a collaboration with Rick Myers and Kim Gordon. Ben’s worked as the editor of A DARK DREAMBOX OF ANOTHER KIND, THE POEMS OF ALFRED STARR HAMILTON (with Alan Felsenthal), CHARAS: THE IMPROBABLE DOME BUILDERS by Syeus Mottel, PROFESSIONALS OF HOPE, THE SELECTED WRITINGS OF SUBCOMANDANTE MARCOS, TOGETHER & ALONE, THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF KARLHEINZ WEINBERGER, and the upcoming anthology ON THE MESA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF BOLINAS WRITERS. He has most recently shown his paintings at Situations Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery, both in NYC. With Alan Felsenthal, he runs the publishing press The Song Cave.