Unblinking Eye

In Memoriam:
Albert Huffstickler
Austin’s Poet of the City

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December 17, 1927 - February 25, 2002

i dream of rivers

i dream of rivers now,
rivers in the night flowing,
starlight reflected in them--

i dream of rivers
and i dream my death
floating in some lost inlet
under trees, face lifted skyward,
moved by the waters.

the face is that of a man
who has arrived at certain conclusions,
is no longer afraid,
the face of a man who understands
what part beauty plays
and what part silence,
a man who is not afraid to decide
and who does not hesitate to revise.

i dream of rivers
and my imminent demise

Poem copyright 1970 by Albert Huffstickler

Ric Williams’ Eulogy for Huff
delivered at his memorial service/poetry reading on March 4, 2002

     We are here tonight to honor the life of Albert Huffstickler, to honor the poetic life this man lead. Why are all of us gathered here to honor this fellow, this particular poet’s life, this quiet man whose poems were often dismissed as too simple, as too personal--a man whose work I published so many times in the Chronicle that one wag asked if he were my father? I should have said yes. For he was the elder, the man whose poetic voice I most admired, whose gift I would be most proud to honor as ancestral.
     For Huff was the essence of the poetic soul. But he did not howl, he did not jump and down and demand to be noticed. He did not dazzle with a showy technique, but oh what a technique, for he dazzled us with his deceptively elegant simplicity, his quiet dignity. He dazzled us with his depictions of dishwashers, the down and out, the waitresses and ditchdiggers, the common human who wandered this rock alone in search of love and in search of home but in lieu of love, in lieu of home would accept a kind word or a hot cup of coffee, a cadged cigarette or they would perhaps finally find a serene consolation in simply being alone.
     That was the beauty of Huff. He articulated our paradoxical soul--our need for sacred connection and our sacred need for solitude. A communion is what Huff understood as our deepest longing. He knew that a faceless flatland of union would not suffice nor would a monumental ego arrogant in its self reliance. Huff chose the harder path, the path of a communion of equal hearts and souls, each a wanderer in a greater soul.
     We are all wanderers searching for communion. We go out and we come home. A breathing. A smoke of spirits drawing in and pushing out. Drinking in the darkness, dancing in the light. These images were Huff’s life. Simple, profound and whether he spoke of them in jest or in tears, his story was all about that quest for the light.
     Huff told the truth of the human soul, the longing and the shame. Huff knew it and he had it down cold. Huff knew we are all in the same boat. None of us privileged to insights deeper or more profound than the next poor soul. So he saw no need to shout, no need to get his ego involved. Just listen when you can and speak when you must. That is why I constantly championed his work. He paid tribute to the vulnerability of humanity in every poem he wrote. And he never doubted even once that we each deserved to be honored for the pain we carry in our hearts and the love we so achingly long to share. He taught me the power, the wonder of simply writing about what was right in front of you, the simple mystery of ineffable existence. If he had an idealism it was of compassion. St. Huff. Smoking above his dark cup and laughing every chance he had. A wandering Buddha if ever I knew one--the wandering Buddha of Hyde Park--a few square blocks that encompassed the world.
     The last thing I said to him, about an hour before he died, was, “I’ll see you in the stars.” And he gave me a little wave and a knowing smile. Just like his “Transformation Blues.”
     “Nobody’s with you/ when you take your primal journey./ The best you can hope for/ is a hand waving somewhere off in the wings,/ a ritualistic goodbye: Adieu, adieu,/ till we meet again, God by you,/ God by you.”
     Huff often wrote of loneliness, of how loneliness would be with you when you die so you would not be alone. But Huff believed in love. The ultimate love. He called it light. He was not alone when he died for he was loved: for who is loved will never die alone.
     And now we hold him in the light of our memories and he holds us in the light of his work. A light as bright as any star out there in the deserts he so loved.
     To Huff--a soul who even now is on a bus somewhere between here and eternity.

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