For Darya and her ideas of inspiration...
"Perhaps the easiest way of making a town's acquaintance is to ascertain how the people in it work, how they love, and how they die."
- Camus, in his novel The Plague
On a journey through the mountains of the east, one dawn, dew still on the grass, the light weak and struggling out of gold towards deep green and the dark blue of rock and sky, I passed the birthplace of Carl Sandburg and so now, here, I can't begin like him. Austin isn't the city of big shoulders, but in the eyes of the world something far less...and in my personal history, something so much more. I know Sandburg forever and he is no longer a myth but just a boy, just a man eternally failing manhood, a dead voice that lies in the dust between library book pages, the feelings of that Fall scene in my mind, the idea of the road, the untiring wandering, the dreams and times of barriers, boundaries, gates between the past and the future. I still can remember him, of course, and I can pace in my mind around the roadside signs that tell the world that he came into existence at this or that spot, measured and walked over by his parents, his friends, his silent self. I can cross valleys and come upon the same vistas that created the singer inside of him, the fields of wheat burning bright in the still, heavy, drowsy afternoons, the breathless air of windless plains and the rolling descent of hills to clear, splashing streams, the water cold and purifying, tasting of the roots of mountains and the endless shade beneath ancient trees. The lost poetry of the lightless spaces. But Austin is not Chicago, it is not the Blue Ridge mountains or the always-retreating hills of Tennessee and North Carolina, it isn't the secret towns of Virginia where love is begun or ended, or just exhausted, nestled in cliffs and caves and the hidden hearts of memories that fade as soon as they are created. Austin is something else entirely for me: it is the soft gray vision of falling rain, the ghostly cry of train whistles in the middle of sleepless nights, arising out of the wind and rising to the sky...the loneliest sound in the world. It is the memory of a thousand days in the sun walking through dust and powdered concrete, asking and never answering, the feeling of an empty embrace, a meeting between hearts set on other places, the sadness of souls that can never join together, the restlessness of eyes that are always searching. Austin is the city of lost dreams.
Now, because I have lived here through twelve long and similar years, felt to be identical in their patterns of loss and disillusionment, I do not have to walk outside this morning for another authentic view of Austin, another momentary gathering of sensations, another memory created. I have all the possible views of this city inside of me, and yet possibility, itself, still escapes me. That is the essence of this town: the moment where desire is converted to fulfillment, and then the inescapable realization that desire only leads to disappointment, and the involuntary creation of new desire. I am thankful to Austin because it has allowed me to live inside of myself, it has not asked too much from my external life, but I am also wary of it for the same reasons. It calls for me to sleep, and I have already slept through twelve years. I am also aware that Austin does not reveal her secrets to most of the people who drift through here with their hopes set on the future, or the past, or on other worlds. Of all the people who live here - how many truly hear her? The most meaningful feelings in this place remain unspoken. The Austin that I know only exists for me. It is a series of tones and images from dreams and memories, it is as much the first impressions of the eighteen year old boy who came here as it is the boredom and despair of the thirty year old who walks the same streets. It is the dark center of the dreaming world of that boy, drawing all images and desires into himself, reflecting his hopes outward and eager to break the barrier between selves, his unending longing for love and new life, and it is the guarded passion of this man, who still feels those dreams stir inside of himself and who no longer can live so fearlessly, but who wishes he could. It is the connection between the two, then, the boy who wanted to grow up and experience life, and the man who wants to return to those years if only to feel the same purity of emotion, the eagerness to believe, the willing faith and soul set on sacrifice. Austin, then, is the border between worlds. It both exists and does not exist, it is coming constantly into being and yet retreats from being into dreams, as dreams are where it can truly live in hope. And like most people who live here, I want to leave. I will leave soon, and I doubt I will ever return. Of course...I have said this before. But this morning, finally, I am tired of dreams that lead only to restless sleep and regrets, I am so weary of waiting and watching...
I want to live.U. Amtey
10 December 2004
NP: The sound of cars on the highway outside my window.