Beauty of the Known World
    Kathleen McGookey

When the sleep expert came to urge the boarding school students to sleep more, halfway through his speech — outline projected on the screen behind him — they began to ask about their dreams. Some dreamt of flying, some dreamt of falling but jerked themselves awake, and the sleepiest, saddest ones didn't remember their dreams. Was this normal? He rolled up his sleeves, gave them scientific names for what they'd experienced. He wanted to reassure them. But whoever arranged for his talk didn't tell him the assembly ended at noon. With five minutes to go, he had grown animated, eager, and showed no sign of returning to his outline. The kids in the back rows yawned — one thin girl with six earrings braided another girl's hair, then stroked the collar of her friend's jean jacket. She uncapped grape lip gloss; they both applied it with a swift and practiced stroke. But other kids were still asking, "What does it mean when I lose my teeth in dreams? Why did my roommate and I both dream of the strange song dry leaves make across empty tennis courts?" The faculty check the clock. We know, in another minute, the kids will rush past the sleep expert on the gym floor. He senses we are poised — for his next word, he must think — when the thin girl in the back row says, "How can I remember, exactly, the song I dreamed I played on my cello this morning, a slow and sad song, drifting out over the lake like a swan, like a lost and lonely boat? All the beauty of the known world can't match it."

Kathleen McGookey's work has appeared in journals including Boston Review, Cimarron Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Hotel Amerika, Ploughshares, and Quarterly West. Her book, Whatever Shines, is available from White Pine Press. Her website is


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