The Ballad of the Lost Leaf

The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ted Hash-Berryman, Fucking Apartment, The Ballad of The Lost Leaf, Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

Prologue

Lo, these dreams we have, and so, much depends upon them. The dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, and though we wish this door to open into the infinite unconscious, all that is beheld therethrough is our own eternal infancy. Yet, it is in this infancy, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes rises to the top. Gather round. Let me tell you a tale in which every word is true.

Chapter 1: Ted’s Dream

I am walking through a shredded field of ferns. The moon sits high in the twilight, though I cannot see it. A path seems to be leading me, and I have the sense that it is towards a familiar place. The dark forest that beckons me sits on the horizon of my vision, and at the same time I am within it. The sway of the woods is phantasmagoric. I know I have been here before, and yet, I am terrified of what awaits in the darkness. Now I am trudging through a marshy sludge, gruelingly. I arrive at a wall of roots that reaches upwards to the heavens and downwards toward Lethe’s yawning maw. The only way forward now is a hollowed log, through which I crawl. There is a slim light in the distance. Thousand-limbed centipedes creep over my hands and feet. I see the far off light of the exit, yet as I claw closer, it seems forever further away. The faster I try to move, the slower my heavy limbs make me. Exhausted, and grown weary, I inch for days. I feel compelled to continue my way through this strange straight labyrinth no matter what else becomes of me. All of a sudden, the womb of wood around me begins to crumble and falls away. There is a sort of fractal disintegration of everything, and now my eyes open upon a scene more vivid than anything real or imagined could be. A great tomb. An iron gate. A triangular stone sat atop. I have been here many times. I know what happens next. I look to the name writ in the stone triangle. Though it is beclouded by mist, my gaze begins to out the letters. Suddenly, I am awake in my bed. It is 6:59AM.

[Entry from Ted’s Dream Journal  3 October 2006]

Have you ever had a recurring dream? It’s maddening. Every time it’s the same. Same places. Same fears and anxieties. What little variety there is only serves to reinforce the Kafkaesque quality of helplessness. The dream I’ve just shared has been a recurring one since my first remembrance of dreaming. One could say since my childhood in Tangier it’s been my own white whale, showing over again forever my whole life, breaching the salty depths of my soul with the force of a great squall ad nauseum. But suddenly, in March of 2013, the dream stopped. The reason why is the reason why I now must enlighten you.

I have just freebased a particularly large dose of melatonin, about 30mg. I reckon I have less than 10 minutes of waking consciousness left before I drift off into deep slumber. It’s rained all week. Lord knows the garden has needed it. I’ve needed it too. The first peoples say the soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. I reached nearly 5 hours sitting without breaking concentration today. It’s been months since I’ve had such stamina. Though I don’t have the energy to write much tonight; I haven’t been sleeping well; I had the dream again last night; it’s been since Monday of last week that I haven’t. I feel so close to breaking through it. I hope to reach the highest level of lucidity tonight, total control. For as Thoreau says, “our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

[Entry from Ted’s Awake Journal  7 March 2013]

That night, as expected, I had the dream. I don’t have to tell you how it unfolded, same as it ever has. Same terrible darkness, same infinite crawl. However, this time, I felt the visceral pang of something amiss. Typically, the increase in clarity I achieve upon arriving at the tomb is swiftly flustered by the a haze aggressively shrouding the dancing letters on the headstone; in this particular dream, though, as the tomb came into being, so did the full force of my conscious mind.  In a moment I attained a fully lucid state of high-definition clarity, and my eyes were able to perceive. The name on the tomb was revealed: Walt Whitman.

Everything suddenly clicked. I woke knowing exactly what I had to do next.

Chapter 2: Ted’s Journey

Dawn of the following day, I set out with a small rucksack and a smattering of fresh fruit for Harleigh Cemetery in New Jersey, the burial ground of the late Walt Whitman. When I arrived, the sun broke the clouds for the first time in a week. I felt reassurance in its warmth. I paused at the outer gate and took in the scent of the fresh cut grass. Not a single soul was in sight. Looking around, I knew not what direction I was supposed to aim, but with my heart as my compass, I set down the first path I saw toward my fate.

It was not long before I found what I was searching for. My breath fell short upon arriving at the tomb. So precisely like my dream looked the tomb that I had to perform a reality check to be sure I was awake. So I was. And even so, I felt unreal being there. I found a flat spot in the grass and sat full lotus, with no plan or expectation of action, no real understanding of why I was even there. But there I was, looking from the same vantage I had so many times before, the same tomb, everything exactly the same, down to the brushscape and fallen leaves. It was because I had such an intuitive sense of the scene that the appearance of a single unfamiliar element called my attention so intently.

At my feet, a solitary specimen with an unusual appearance: a small, caramel-colored cap, undergirded by gills of a purple hue, and a long flexuous stem which thickened slightly at the base, where a faint indigo emerged like the vasculature beneath the skin of a human wrist. I recognized it immediately: Psilocybe Tampanensis, the most elusive of all the psilocybes. Considered extremely rare to be found in the wild, it is the holy grail for any mycologist, let alone an amateur like myself.

[Excerpted from Ted’s Awake Journal 8 March 2013]

Without hesitation I ingested the whole fruit of the fungus, and having subsisted on nothing more than water and wild blackberries all day, I was within 15 minutes riding the first wave of a trip. By this point, the sun had burnt through the cloud cover, and the thin white wisps that remained performed a mesmerizing dance in syncopation with the flux of the universe. In front of me, the outer walls of Whitman’s tomb filled with light from billions of stars. The woods behind me seemed to press against my back. My pupils had never opened so wide; they became like black holes, pulling everything apart. The tomb’s gate disappeared. From inside, a pitch white light, and an impossibly familiar voice calling me inward.

Chapter 3: Ted’s Trip

Ted Hash-Berryman, Walt Whitman, Tomb, Leaves of Grass, Fucking Apartment, Poetry

I entered the tomb’s abyss. Before me, a bearded figure appeared to share the small enclosure. I knew him instantly. He was the man whose name delivered me to this resting place, whose words had decades before delivered me to the churchsteps of poetry, but a swaddled babe. Now, I was quite literally looking at Walt Whitman for the first time.

At first sight, he looked quite old. He was six feet in height, and stood quite straight. I reckon he weighed nearly two hundred pounds. His head was large and rounded in every direction. Though his face and head gave the appearance of being plentifully supplied with hair, the crown was moderately bald; on the sides and back his hair was long, very fine, and nearly snow white. His eyebrows were highly arched; his eyes themselves were black, and in proportion to his head and face they seemed rather small; they were dull and heavy, not expressive—what expression they had was of kindness, composure, and suavity. His nose was broad, strong, and straight, but dipped down somewhat between his eyes with a long sweep. His lips were full. His face was covered with a fine white beard, which was long enough to come down a little on his breast. His ears were very large, and especially long. He is remarkably handsome.

[Excerpted from Ted’s Trip Report  8 March 2013]

Seeing this man before me, my body went limp, and I collapsed on the stone ground. I wanted nothing more than to touch him, but even if I could have moved my limbs, he was like a chimera floating in the nether-aether betwixt his world and my own, an intangible spirit. He spoke for what seemed like two days-worth of hours. Much was said, some of it lost in the darkness, but the first words he uttered to me I could not misremember if I tried.

Walt said, “My friend, it may surprise you, but I am alive, and you have not yet been born. And yet, you are alive, and I am long dead, and this plane on which we meet is of neither the living nor the deceased.

I couldn’t doubt the truth of these words, for they were true, and yet, in that moment, I had the strong sensation that the both of us were already damned.

Walt told me his story. You see, some years ago in his time, he ate of the fruit of the forest same as I. From that point on, Walt had a recurring dream of standing before an unmarked gravestone. The question it seemed to be asking haunted him for years and years, until one night, when at the climax of the dream, appearing at the grave site was a caramel-purple mushroom growing from the deceased’s earth.

Walt told me of a prophecy. He told how in this dream he ate the mushroom with the vigor of a man half his age, and immediately thereafter underwent a psychic transubstantiation into a body not his own. He told me how he saw the world through another’s eyes for one full day, and ever since he was not the same man.

As he spoke, he seemed hurried. I think, like myself, Walt was sensing that our time together was likely to be brief and could abruptly end at any moment.

You, Ted, whoever you are, it was you. What I lived, it was the very life you live. I saw wholly what you saw. I tasted what you chewed. I wore your finest handmade garments and drank your finest wine. With your arms, I comforted the crying infant. I cannot say why, Ted, but I was with you at your best, and I was with you at your worst; I lived it—all between the waking space between two sleeps.

Dumbfounded, I tried to ask what this meant, but I was not able to speak.

Sensing my confusion, and under the duress of slipping time, Walt said, “Don’t you see, you fool? I lived your life! I saw through your very eyes!

Even though our circumstance was uncanny to say the least, his speech seemed too farfetched to be true to my logical mind. Nevertheless, I believed him because I had no other choice.

I never thought I would be with you again,” Walt continued, “but now that you are here, I need you to do one thing for me. I am sure that you are the only one whom I can trust to do it.

What Walt told me next took my remaining breath away. He told of the existence of a final Leaf of Grass that no one in the world had ever seen. And even more—it was written about me.

Chapter 4: The Lost Leaf

Walt explained that from his visions of the future—visions seen through my own eyes—he compiled a poem, a latent Leaf of Grass. What he would only refer to as “the Dark Leaf” was the poetic transcription of what he saw and experienced while occupying my body. Immediately after completing it, he suffered a paralytic stroke on January 23 of 1873.

During his long recovery, Whitman would read through the manuscript obsessively, vowing to never show a soul. He knew the world wasn’t ready to accept this anachronistic gift, but he also knew it belonged to the world as soon as he finished writing it. Afterwards, he carried the manuscript ever with him, reading from it only in times of immense calm; it scared him, and yet he possessed not the courage to dispose of it. Whitman understood it was of cosmic importance that the manuscript survive, if not only for the hope that someone in the future would be able to make sense of it.

Walt continued to speak to me kindly and warmly, as he uncrossed his legs and leaned in. He spoke of his present and of the actual place his corporeal body stood waiting in that moment, and since I could not speak myself, I continued to listen, in rapture.

He told me that it is 1880, nearly eight years since he dreamt his way inside of me. He must have sensed that our time together was at an end, because he wasted no breath asking of me his favor. You see, in his own present, Walt had not long ago sought refuge in the arms of his sometimes provider-lover, Dr. Maurice Bucke. Walt stayed on Bucke’s vast farm in Ontario, spending his days roaming the countryside. For someone who knew that time was of the essence, he certainly belabored the specifics of their “amorous congress”.

Then, in our final moment together, Walt told me the exact location that he planned to bury the manuscript as soon as this visit was over. He told me the precise coordinate location of his lost leaf, describing the tilt of the land and the unmistakable white boulder it was buried in the shadow of. He finished by taking a moment of silence to breathe in and out, after which he said something softly under his breath, as if speaking to himself. I’m not sure, but I got the overwhelming sense that it was an expression of doubt. I knew the same doubt that was coursing through my veins and arteries must surely be coursing through his. For we both understood that we were under the suggestive influence of a hallucinatory substance and that meeting with this ghastly other could very well be imagined; in other words, if we were meeting beyond space-time, but both admittedly hallucinating, how could either of us be sure that this was not a mere meeting of figments?

Unlike Walt, who could only hope for all eternity that I was as real as he was to me, I had the power to prove the legitimacy of his long self-silenced prophecy. That is to say, Walt had to doubt himself for the rest of his life, but I could find out the truth by the next morrow’s light.

I felt the absolute need to speak. I could not take the imposed muteness any longer. But as soon as I opened my mouth, my audible voice fell flat into the grass over which I was seated, and nothing else.

I was sober, completely, and it was nearing high noon. I wasted no time getting to my Jeep and heading out for London, Ontario. The highways were empty, though by the time I arrived in town, it was deep beyond dusk, no time for a manic excavation. That night, I found a quaint bed and breakfast to bunk in. By daybreak, I already had my shovel in the soft ground. It wasn’t long before the hard clanging of metal on metal announced the presence of my bounty.

Buried exactly where Walt described was an iron box sealed tightly with a sort of rubber gasket. After prying the box at its seam for several minutes, I wrested it open. Inside was a slightly smaller wooden box with a latch but no lock. Inside of that was a small stone of no immediate importance resting atop a band of cloth enwrapping a short flat mass.

Unraveling the cloth, I discovered a number of sheets of what was once fine white paper, folded and fastened with two rust-eaten pins. Written faintly in pencil in large letters upon the topmost sheet were the words “Fucking Apartment,” and just below, a barely perceptible “Leaves of Grass” scribbled furiously out.

Epilogue

Since my discovery, I have been personally transcribing the text of Whitman’s poem, Fucking Apartment, verbatim and in its entirety into a digital document. Though many will doubt its validity, I am sure that this discovery will have enormous literary repercussions, and that it will one day be entered into Whitman’s canon and analyzed by scholars as rigorously as everything else the great poet wrote.

I have read the poem more times than I can count, and its contents confirm everything Whitman told me. I know because it comes from a day in my life. I remember the very day he writes of. It seemed so mundane then. Little did I know I was sharing my soul with a great man.

In the coming weeks, you will have the opportunity to be among the first to ever lay eyes upon the completion of Leaves of Grass and of Walt Whitman’s body of work. For now, here’s a little something to whet your appetite.

The Lost Leaf Of Grass – Teaser Trailer #1

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