I Have Given Myself the Sea
The Dream Diaries of Cay Bahnmiller

By Cary Loren

So many dreams are crowding upon me now that I can scarcely tell true from false: dreams like light imprisoned in bright mineral caves; hot, heavy dreams; ice-age dreams; dreams like machines in the head.
–Anna Kavan, Asylum Piece, 1940

Cay Bahnmiller began writing down her dreams in 1989, logging them in spiral-bound stenographer notebooks and office ledgers. Except for an occasional illustrative drawing, the dream diaries exist without adornment and were a simple morning ritual forming a continuum of consciousness, a daily exercise keeping an inner reality recorded. Her dreams were like a refraction of light in a cave, or the glimmers of light that appear through the darkest painting. Dreams are the ocean of beginnings—the origins of art.  

Her chronicle of dreams mirrored day-to-day life; nature and her surrounding environment, the art world, family, and personal desires. They were seldom surreal or fantastic but were filled instead with naturalism and flashes of poetry. More typical of a non-dream, her dream life embraced eroticism, those beloved, and beauty. When once questioned about the ugliness of Metamorphosis, Kafka is reported to have said, “The dream reveals the reality which conception lags behind. That is the horror of life—the terror of art.”1 

[2/23/1989] of having one tooth pulled / Dr. Mark, G nearby / I want it done today he wants to wait. Offers me wine. / of falling down a snow bank / Tall, tumbling and laughing / of my truck and belongings scattered, no one driving it and I am in the Dark with May / also with G in a swamp / then in an underground Bldg. “shop” woodworking? There are men in corridors and rooms that chase us—cocaine? = drugs. / Also a hutch w/ candles / Blue votives, long wicks / Bring them into my apartment.

[10/28/89] Bad dream / of brother’s toys / airplane crash / death chair / that falls apart / suitcases. Luggage / Terrible fight w/ Robert, returns / all ptgs., watercolors / Charles B. in N.Y. / family, one brother.

[5/22/90] The remainder of a farmhouse garden / several flowering honeysuckle white tuberose-like trees, lily of the valley, May Apple, pink lavender wildflowers / Two red cardinals between the pine trees near the open field, one duck, marches unexpectedly. / The sunlight / As lit up big stones / At edge of pond. The deep smell of fresh healthy growth in the woods, of leaves and heat. / In the treetops big crows. Pink jasmine bushes / Fading jack-in-the-pulpit / rolling thickets, a lot of dark green curved space in someone’s yard lilac wisteria and white note via. / Clean, clear glass, immortelles plagiarize vision.

[9/15/90] Gord rubs fur across my neck, maps of U.P. Mich. & Canada / Snow, maps, travel. / Mom’s pink 5 lilies & much anger, the feeling she does not love me.

[9/19/90] Brown Bear cub after me / Down the Street / A pair of gloves, sticks / Gord comes out of the house / Hamburgers? yellow Buick Bldg. apt., trees turned yellow, autumn

[10/09/90] Dream of drawing Gord’s picture / toy store—flea market? / Army soldiers in desk drawer. Small plastic Army men in package / postcards Drawing his hand, Back Pockets / A reception party, crowds wedding calisthenics, cheerleaders, summersaults. / My mother in her kitchen yelling at me about if Susan really knew me, she would not see me, very cruel. / I try & squeeze her real hard. I am furious. / Also looking for Gord / order ride and ask someone who looks like him & being told he’s across the street, near ocean, water, a garage, metal garbage under sink Kitchen. 215—Bones.

[10/29/90] dream of Gordon and I. He reaches outside the window, a bird gives him a small twig red in color, glowing. / A small branch pale orange, new like spring. I put it in a glass over the kitchen sink, and the color Blue is there, also more green foliage. / I want to make love

He is not feeling well / We embrace. It is Very loving. Then at 215, Diane B, many cousins arrive /  My father in a Brown Velvet suit. I take Photographs. I want a Back rub. David Schwartz looks like a child again, in the backyard. / I have a headache in the dream. / Then Patrick gives me two black shelves. The two shelves hold two small necklaces / He is also outside w/ a woman / Black El Camino truck, parked the wrong way. / I place the shelves on my dressing table then the dream with Gord & the small Branch. / Brown velvet jacket.

[2/16/91] erotic dream about George, in DIA, I in sleeveless shirt—rust colors / I look beautiful, but I don’t know this / George kisses me bites my arm, flips me over his back? / People seem gathered out in foyer, another man / Asks for my ID # card? / I perspire sweat—George can smell me. Book section big. / I am sending out books. / We delay going to class and kiss instead. He presses his cock up against my backside. / The class is FULL of students. French? Also, I leave, go to ladies room / salad dressing bottle leaks in class. I take it to ladies’ room, to wash hands. He says I bit him too. Very sexual. / Also earlier, I dreamed of Skip, of being somewhere w/ him. Also Mary gets a valentine from Kathy! I feel left out and cry. She leaves me.

[2/18/91] dream of a man on a river bank. / It feels like the Mediterranean. Very Pastel colors. All the big clan is gathered—dancing & dancing. / I’m in a wedding gown, my family is so happy that I finally do have someone who cherishes me!? / I then bike and go toward the water, the rocks, the beautiful sunset, almost Over the edge / seduced by the light, drawn into the water’s edge. / Tall bldg. near water / The man is there. He looks like no one I could know, yet I can see his interest so closely. / My desire is strong for him. He is pure male. He moves toward me on the Detroit shoreline. / If I hadn’t stopped would I have gone into the river like Odysseus? / It is as if my heart & soul everything is there, near the water. The rocks, QUARTZ yet powdery.

[12/31/91] Your deep kisses wake me from red sleep / —wet undershirt apricots lick / Steal my cheeks / Hills, cargo, tropic nonsense / Christmas lights familiar to us as they gather up / ghetto houses.

[6/11/94] I dream of being at a greenhouse, an open market buying HENBANE herbs, Chamomile, cyclamen, roots, all roots, farmers packing up all sorts of plants.

[6/12/94] Dream of Susanne, her crying in a car, me getting into another car, her saying July? / grey point press prints / her crying sadness being my work all mixed up in her. Tears.

[6/23/94] I dream about holding a little girl in my arms / at a crosswalk / my daughter and Paul Schwarz/ two boys, tall children / dance naked like Isadora Duncan in a garden / giving a perfectly obscene or erotic performance.

[11/18/94] I dream of seeing Chris and George and a painting I no longer recognize / at the backside of the painting George says I am wearing a dress of purple aster.

[3/20/96] I dream of my Grandmother / My Mother’s house and ‘the grand’ piano / 2 sided ancient, Bach / Like heavy ornate wood / Baroque, like the priest’s desk w/ worn wooden keys and ivory and so many pedals, foot pedals to press like an organ / Velvet curtains grandmother there. I ask, is this the piano I would play?

[6/25/97] I the lucky / Eider handed Violet Wings clip / oncoming light. Night Lights / Launder Turn Dolce. / Up the scale her voice / his dusk chatters up chimney / for this architecture / I have given myself the sea.

[6/03/98] I dream of being at the DIA, / It seems like a BOUTIQUE, looking for the Silverman’s room / Modern art, a turquoise alive

[6/30/98] Five years to regain a bit of the life I once had. To go back to dreams. Intense summer heat […] HOOPS, MED, obsession / WHITE HEAT. MEN / The lack of fear to anything. The Desire to go fast / To speed in a car, run, fly […] at the blue tarp.

[3/16/00] Lilly and I / Writing as if it mattered / At the cemetery Spruce / 3 kinds of prize cows / Photographs from long ago / A letter of Ann’s and Tremendous 4 o’clock Loneliness sadness / Futile times / Bob Dylan on Gratiot Past Chene / Thumping incredible guitar and drums

[2/03/01] Love Letters in the Sand / See two big Beehives in Elmwood / Silver grey Ovals in Tears

[11/18/01] Dreams of water Seaside, beautiful / Gentle warm / Gulf stream water green

[9/22/02] Stress test: May. Joe. Grant. Cheryl. Phillipe. Annah. Jimmy. Jade. Rape. House. Palms: 1963.

[2/03/2003] Goodnight my a’mour / Good night my Lilli / 3 months of shiva enough?

[2/24/03] Belle Isle with Lilli, pine cones, swans, ducks, mallards and their spouses / ganders geese / Black with a dash of white.

[3/15/03] Warmer now, coconut red syrup where maples thaw. / Chokeberries and a din of sparrows, crows and cackles / Could it be Spring at last? And if so, a spring of no / Hyacinths of the fragrant dead and the permutations of the corpses of war … St. Patrick’s Day my ass. / Days of doom, of war / And the raining down of nuclear warheads / Unlike we’ve ever seen. I want to go home, go home to Jesus, truly.

[10/30/2003] 8:53 AM time of death / But then she still lived on / lived on until October

[3/25/05] So one gives the very best / of All of their hours and eyes / For a black, blue-black sea.

Read next: Gilbert and Lila Silverman, inside Doom and Glory in the Cass Corridor: A Dossier on Cay Bahnmiller by Cary Loren

1. Franz Kafka with Gustav Janoush, Conversations with Kafka (New Directions, 1971) p.32.

Founded in 2020, Three Fold is an independent quarterly based in Detroit that presents exploratory points of view on arts, culture, and society in addition to original works in various media, including visual art, literature, film and the performing arts. We solicit and commission contributions from artists, writers, and activists around the world. Three Fold is a publication of Trinosophes Projects, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Three Fold recognizes, supports, and advocates for the sovereignty of Michigan's twelve federally-recognized Indian nations, for historic Indigenous communities in Michigan, for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those who were forcibly removed from their Homelands. We operate on occupied territories called Waawiiyaataanong, named by the Anishinaabeg and including the Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), and Bodewatomi (Potawatomi) peoples. We hold to commit to Indigenous communities in Waawiiyaataanong, their elders, both past and present, and future generations.