Ira Sukrungruang
Loose Interpretations of the Dreams You’ve Had During Naps in Thailand While Your Mom Listens to Buddhist Sermons About Suffering


In this dream you see your father, who is not the father you know, but a boy of eight or nine. The sun ascends over the sand in Rayong, the coastal city where he spent much of his childhood, a place you drive by to get to better places. The sun wakes the land, and this boy who is your father walks among clotheslines of drying seafood—the smell strong and pungent. The boy who is your father does not notice. He simply walks. The paper-thin squid quivers in the morning breeze. The husks of fish swim in the morning air. Plump shrimp shrink in the morning sun. The boy who is your father is surrounded by decay. He is part of the decay. He is in a state of constant decay himself. But then, in a heat mirage, the boy who is your father morphs. He becomes you, you in pudgy child form. You in yellow, red, green-striped pants. You in your Chicago Bears t-shirt, the one with the “B” in “Bears” fading, turning your favorite team into the Chicago ears. Suddenly, the smell in the dream is overpowering. The smell enters the nose and spreads inside the body. It is a smell that permeates the skin to bone to tissue to blood.  The smell makes you put your hand over your nose, makes you flee from the infinite lines of inescapable drying seafood, flee from this olfactory suffering. Truth: you don’t know what to make of this dream. You wonder if this dream is telling you how similar to your father you are, how you may possess his wayward nature, his desire to serve himself first before others, his habit of loving too easy and leaving too quick. Or the dream simply means you really hate dried seafood. You wake with an upset stomach.


Just yesterday you were twenty-one and stupid, and now you are thirty-eight and stupid. The puppies in this dream are cute, yes. All breeds of puppies—golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, Yorkies, poodles, Labradors. You want to pet the puppies. You think a world of puppies is a perfect world. So many puppies crawl over you and lick your face and toes. The puppies won’t be puppies long, though. The puppies will get older. The puppies will eventually pass. When you stepped out of the shower today, how many more hairs did you lose? When you looked in the mirror, did you see the flab of your life, the fat of your existence? It is a familiar reflection—in dream or in waking life—so familiar that over the years you’ve made it your friend. Still. Puppies. You want a puppy to be a puppy forever. You want the softness of their fur, the plump of their bodies to remain. But everything ages. Age is part of suffering, Buddha said. After the dream, you want to go outside and pet the stray that comes in front of the house and begs for scraps. The one with the rib-caged body and missing patches of fur. The one that waves its right paw when he sees you, like an old friend.

The Disabled

If you dream you are deaf, you are hiding your darkest insecurities. If you dream you are blind, someone hates you. If you dream you cannot walk, you ate too much last night. Last night, you ate too much because in your dream you could not walk. Your body was the size of an enormous beanbag, and your appendages poked from the bulb of your bulk, like little stubs. You were rotund the way a blimp is rotund, the way a cartoon character can inflate a body—any body—to whatever proportions it wants. In the dream you rocked and tottered. You rolled. You roiled. In the dream, women served you whatever you wanted, feeding you with delicate hands grapes and dumplings, your lips messy with grease and juice. You knew some of the women. They were the ones who satiated your waking life during the year that felt like one long dream. They kept saying, “More. I’ll give you more. Keep eating. There is no such thing as enough.”

The Other Woman

In another dream, it is the waitress at the Thai restaurant you went to a couple weeks ago. In another, it is your high school girlfriend, the one who went after you with a butcher knife for fun. It is never your ex-wife. This time it is Scarlett Johansson. In the dream, Scarlett is your wife. You are on the couch with her, doing what you do after dinner, watching one of her movies and tickling each other’s feet with feet. Scarlett has nice feet with a butterfly tattoo on her right foot. You like poking your big toe at the tattoo, pretending to make it flutter. There is nothing sexual about the dream, which is, of course, terrible. Everything seems innocent. Everything is rated G. Scarlett rubs your stomach and says she wants shortbread cookies with dollops of fudge in the center. When you wake you want shortbread cookies with dollops of fudge in the center.


You woke this afternoon with your hand like a claw, strangely disfigured because you are double-jointed. Whatever you were climbing, you were climbing quickly. The question: Were you climbing away or were you climbing toward?


It depends on whose it is. If it’s yours this doesn’t mean disaster. It means something in you has slipped away—a fear, perhaps, an anger that finally extinguishes itself. If in your dream someone else dies, it depends on whether you were crying. If you cried, there is nothing to worry about. Peace will find you. If you did not cry, if you stared coldly at the burial plot while everyone around you was snuffing their tears with handkerchiefs, then the fear inside of you—whatever that may be—will grow. In this dream, you cried. In this dream, you died.


The sun is the creation and preservation of life. Your father, the fortuneteller, would tell you everything is predicated on the movement of the sun. He would tell you it’s always good to have the sun in sight. It is the best guide in life, he would say, better than the stars that are fickle by the season. In some of your dreams the sun descends in some cornfield in central Illinois, some flatland. Sometimes over the foothills of Chiang Mai, like the ones outside your mother’s home, green and lush and overwhelming. In this dream it is Chicago, your birthplace. The sun stops in mid-set. It glows brilliant red, frozen, its radiance spreading along the line of the horizon. You stand on the shore of Lake Michigan by the charcoal dome of the planetarium. When you were a boy your mother and aunt woke you up early in the morning and drove you to this spot so you could see Halley’s Comet. Night after night you stood on this shore. Night after night the comet escaped your sight. You never left disappointed though. You stayed and watched the sunrise, nestled between the warmth of your mother and aunt. In this dream, the sun is saying good-bye, but it stalls. It lingers. It seems you are the only person in this world. Nothing stirs. Not the lake waves. Not the starlings’ mad laughter, not the crunch of tires, not the buzz of electricity that permeates the city. You stand and watch. You wonder when the rest of the sun will disappear under the Chicago skyline, disappear among the Chicago streets where the pigeons have quieted and roosted under the Wabash Bridge. You wonder what the next day will look like.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoirs Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy, the short