Friday, March 07, 2008

City in the Lake

The water is calm and flat, as it extends in all directions. To the north, it ends in great mountains, cold purple behemoths of rock and sand, desolate stretches that stand as magnets to the imagination but hold impenetrable obstacles for the body. To the east, the lake ends in a great water fall, a fall so high that all the tons of water that slide off the cliff disperse into vapor and nothingness halfway down the wall. Of the bottom, little is known. Some will speak of great darkness, of a swamp of spherical rocks and dark obscene creatures that live beneath them. To the south, there is sunlight and commerce, a great port in the lesser waterfall that calmly and steadily descends to the lower lake and many smaller islands bathing in the endless sunlight of the vast unknown above the great white cliffs. To the west, there is only the great darkness of the tall cliffs that extend beyond comprehension, high above the clouds and the reach of a man’s eye.
In the middle stands the city. Clearly delineated by white walls, a clean rectangle in the midst of the calm water, buzzing with activity yet maintaining a perennial tranquility. There are large gates on each side, heavy stone stairways leading down to the clear liquid surface and beneath it. A few piers extend outwards on the side of the gates. Most of the active ones are on the southern side. People run back and forth from the piers to the gates and back again. They carry large packages on their backs and push wooden carts. There are no animals to help with the burden. Small boats are tied to the piers and loaded with clothes, tools, books… the many things that can only be constructed in the heart of the quiet city.
The walls are white but show the many cuts, bruises and scars of the centuries. Men walk above them, holding weapons at the ready. They are dressed in dark silver armor and long flowing black capes. They carry themselves with great discipline, following predetermined paths as they make their way on the top of the walls. On each side of each gate stands a circular tower, where several of the guards converge. They stand around metal cannons that extend upwards, ready to shoot up towards the air. The cannons are kept clean, polished and ready even through they haven’t been used in so long that there is no record of their purpose in any recorded memory. The guards ceremonially stand around them, looking up towards the heavens, their eyes rarely getting distracted by the call of the mountains to the north or the distant roar of the waterfall to the east.
Inside the city, there are elevated streets that run over each other in complex configurations. There are walkways that stretch from high tower to high tower, where men in white robes walk back and forth, discussing the finer aspects of an old philosophical argument, or the implications of a new poem that has just been circulated among them. The tall towers end in open circular terraces that are mostly quiet and empty. Sometimes a man sits alone, thinking and writing. Sometimes a couple drapes themselves in a white sheet and make love beneath the open sky. Sometimes three men stand and chant together, a song of an unknown language lost to recorded time.
At the lowest levels of the city, there are great factories where the raw matter that is brought into the city is transformed into new configurations. Men in dark brown clothes work tirelessly to complete their set goals and hand the new packages to the carriers. Some of these factories are made of several small sweaty rooms, some are large halls full of loud metal noises and bursts of chemical steam. The men inside bend over, their backs almost hunchbacked with the years of tireless work and toil. Their faces are full of marks and their eyes are dark with confused memory.
Towards the north side of the city, there are thicker buildings that are full of little apartments. There the bulk of the city’s families reside. The men are gone for days at a time, so the women find games to play with each other and with their children. They sometimes climb to the tall towers and find the empty circular terraces, they sometimes roam in the northern lake in little boats and hold secret meetings beneath the darkness of the purple mountains. In the basements beneath the buildings, they hold large gatherings where only women are allowed. Here they will tell their secrets and remember their own forgotten chants.
Seen from within it, the city is busy and full of noise and activity. From above, it is as calm and quiet as the lake that surrounds it. Tiny noises of work and happiness, a respite from the dangers and terrors that are told by the travelers from the east. I look at it all from the heights, moving things here and there. Placing a man here, shifting a boat there. Yesterday it was as it is today. Tomorrow it will be the same.

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