by Arthur O’Shaughnessy
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
My mouth is full of night and water.
My dream started from where I had left off, lying awake in the tent, listening to Burning Man, Robin asleep next to me while I stared past the ceiling to the sky, wondering at myself, at what I might have to do to let anything in. Seamlessly, though in the shadow of sleep, I left the bed, carefully found my night clothes and put them on again. Then I crept outside, paused, took a breath as I stood at the mouth of the tent, then zipped it up like a child miming a promise kept. Then the dream skipped like an analog video on fast forward, its reality taking a moment to blur just long enough to get me to the Esplanade.
From there it was a long walk, all of it wrapped in pale dust and cold and the lights of fantastic things passing me by in the dark as if I were actually there, the thump of all the art cars blurring as I dreamed of crossing the Playa, the music hard and glittering, my body a shadow but as real as my mind could synthesize. My walk through the desert seemed to symbolize nothing, except as a means to an end, as I had a destination before I had even fallen asleep: The Magic Phonebooth, a public satellite phone some rich person provides every year as an art project that anyone can use to call anywhere in the world for as long as they want. I had spoken of it earlier to Robin, as one of my favourite things there that I had never used, offered maybe as a solution to some of my disassociation, some of what was keeping me from the world.
As I approached it, though, exhausted and cold, I could felt the emptiness inside my heart as if it were made of a tangible material, my apathy so extensive it could almost be measured by clever engineers. Yet my journey continued, my feet kept moving, until I was finally there, hand on the metal door, still uncertain of what I was going to say. My life seemed so hollow, so irrelevant, a pointlessness amplified to deafening levels. What was I looking for? Redemption? Validation? It was a mystery to me, but I opened the door anyway and stepped inside.
My dream self didn’t pause, though I would have fumbled there, but picked up the receiver and cradled it against my ear like an old friend, and dialled a number I’ve never actually known by rote. East coast. Across the river. The gantries. The transom over the door. The metal bed-frame. Lying on the couch, listening to a story about a man being bitten on the foot by a fish and losing one of his toes. “You would have been proud of me.” How I never would have gone back to that place if he hadn’t put his hand on the small of my back. How completely damaged he was. How much he liked the feathers in my hair. My photo in a terrible frame, tacky, grandmotherly. His picture pinned to a string at the foot of my room. The first time he told me, in a drug store that I have visited since to buy my first set of false eye-lashes, but hated in his absence, when he told me and I looked up and he shook his head as if I should have already known. It was a torrent. A rush. Endless, though it only lasted seconds.
The phone rang once, then clicked as he picked up. The background of traffic was barely there, even in the lee of the bridge. Late, I know, I thought, almost surprised that he had woken up in my dream, even knowing it was all pretend. “Hello?” An art car passed the booth, the wind picked up, the crawling sounds of Burning Man leaked past my lips through the wires, loud and flashy, obvious through my silence. He waited. I waited. When at least I finally spoke, it was only five words. “Everything is broken without you.”