DAY PLANNER VOL 1 :: WINTER 2016
WRITINGS :: CREATIONS :: PHOTOGRAPHY
WHERE WE MAKE OUR STAND Benjamin Walker
HYPSOMETRIC James Conkling
UNUSUAL OCCURENCES IN THE DESERT
Christopher Ronan Conway
WHILE YOU WERE OUT Caitlyn Edwards
DAY 23: ON THE ROAD TO CHACO CULTURE Martin Phillip ‘Meditation Beings for Day Planner’ :: Joani Maher
DAY PLANNER creatives founder/editor-in-chief Mattie Wong contributers Natasha Bennetts James Conkling Christopher Ronan Conway Caitlyn Edwards Alexandra Haniford Michael Hechme Jordan Jenkins Martin Phillip Becca Radost Onken Emily Rampone Benjamin Walker Katie West Mattie Wong cover image Joani Maher on the web at dayplannermag.com
:: DAY PLANNER was conceived as a way to encourage finishing projects and exploring ideas. Sometimes, all we need is a deadline to help us buckle down and work on those things we put off day-in and day-out. Life has a way of sneaking up on you and suddenly you realize youâ€™ve set aside your creative goals for six months, a year, or even longer. DP is a contributor-based magazine that gives our creatives and thinkers the platform to display whatever work they can finalize by the submission date. You are holding in your hand our beginnings, and we hope our words and pictures enlighten, surprise, and perhaps inspire you to start with renewed enthusiasm on projects inspired by your own unique brilliance. -MW
Where We Make Our Stand :: poetry Benjamin Walker
slow burn :: photography
TABLE of CONTENTS
Cicada: the myth, the legend :: prose
Straight Lines :: poetry Katie West
Notes on Turkish Election Day :: essay Mattie Wong
While You Were Out :: photography
Rotting. Dying. Forgiving? :: memoir
Day 23 :: travel essay
Unusual Occurences in the Desert :: fiction
Christopher Ronan Conway
Becca Radost Onken
Hypsometric :: map James Conkling
The Projectionist :: fiction
Cars N Towns :: photography
No Art Supply Budget :: media
where we make our stand
:Benjamin Walker: photograph by Natasha Bennetts from her series ‘slow burn’
What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents, Invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, knows no discouragement, Waiting patiently, waiting its time. - Walt Whitman, “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire”
It’s easy to say yes, come that time. You lost. It’s easy to say it can’t be helped.
Isn’t the party over?
Taps run dry. New crust hardens where the knife split your last loaf. The hall gets broom-swept, blotted, doused ammonia-sharp. Someone taps you on the shoulder. You’re in the way and wearing the wrong colors – but don’t despair. The proper ones are offered for sale. In the crook of your arm, a weight you once ignored bears down on your muscles. You turn to a friend, catch her eyes, detect a breach. You want more than this, but just the same you’re afraid of what’s next and if you have to stay here, You’re afraid to wait. I, too, wish that time wasted felt like wasting. I’d know my real age, the way only my friends and family know. People like a hero. The only lies we like more are ones where they fail then rise, chin-up, and die like a hero. We don’t want those moments before, in green rooms, where they smash a mirror and beg to extend their contract. Then again, how many shelter pit bulls with portraits (and muzzles) have found a home before you? When the time comes and there’s nothing left for you to fight with, you add your voice to the pitiless that surround you, surrender the words, raise your hand, hope it proves nothing. Soon, you start to forget faces of the people who stood with you. You look up whether you need a hair dryer to remove that bumper sticker. You check your collar in the mirror, dangle the lanyard with your work ID in your hands, ready to surrender to it, ready to disappear. It’s always darkest before someone says FUCK NO, GET UP. I’M NOT DONE WITH YOU YET.
You need to remember why we fought for anything in the first place. We believe in the unspent miracle of a blue dot defying the frosty indifference of space.
The universe is a billion cold, a trillion dark, quadrillion long.
Then there’s you. And down the river, me.
We’re not supposed to be here. We weren’t supposed to grow legs and crawl out of the water. We’re not supposed to venture out of our tents at night. Where’s the fun in doing what you’re supposed to do? We know we’re just one rock whirling around a plasma ball, but our rock is covered in mold, leaves, talking bags of meat and talking meat doesn’t quit.
This isn’t our last stand. This is our first.
Say: To hell with your meteors. To hell with your gamma ray bursts, your false vaccuum. To hell with your viruses, your shitty harvests, your multi-level marketing. We will craft new life. We will cultivate crops on the rooftops. We will defend the destitute. Our franchise will extend across the continents and speak every language. Our art will comfort the afflicted. Our art will afflict the comfortable. This can’t wait until the rising tides put your office neck-deep. This can’t wait until Elon sends you a boarding pass for Mars. Courage is an option for people who can strap themselves on rockets and start over.
Courage is an option when art is an option.
Your art is no longer optional. What follows?
being reckless, mostly in Montana.
bad luck with cameras.
cicada: the myth, the legend :Emily Rampone: It’s late winter when Fotudeng takes his first dose. He has spent many evenings contemplating the consequences of succumbing to his seniority. Instinctively he knows, it’s time. Retiring to his room, he feels nothing. At first. Then, blood pounds rhythmically in his ears, like an ocean inundating his senses. Like the tide, he breaths in, and out. Steadily, vicissitudes of breath pass between his lips, descend into his belly, and rise from his chest: changed, new. He reaches into his left pocket and pulls out a second dose. And then a third. The sound of rushing blood annexes his senses. The salty waves in his ears billow into warm summer nights. A comforting song. Chirping crickets, croaking frogs. The soothing song swells into strident sounds. Swarming cicadas assault his ears. After years of placid persuasion, a reputation of transforming violent enemies into reasonable allies, he cannot contain himself. He claws at his ears to control the cacophony, and collapses. He remains in a heap for twelve days. The new year comes and goes without him. Seas of red lanterns and laughter do not wake him. Cracks of fireworks cannot rouse him from this slumber, until the 13th day, when warm air drifts through his window and kisses his feet. Movement returns to his physical form. His toes wriggle, his nose sniffs. His spine stretches and contracts. Like a baby he pushes himself up on his forearms, then his knees, and makes his way outside. He planted the pistacia tree behind his home seventeen years ago. Its once stubby branches that reached straight for the sky had settled down into a full, round arbor. Fotudeng climbs up into the arms of his old friend.
photograph by Emily Rampone
He first feels the change in his cheeks. They begin to harden and pull away from what he’d known as his body. His nails sink into the bark and fingers pluck themselves free, knees hug the trunk, finally, shoulders, too full to be contained, burst out of his back, splitting the skin along his spine. He is released into the spring air, his new body granting him new life. In early 300CE, Fotudeng popularized Buddhism throughout China. His slingshot to fame landed him a position with the famous Xiongnu general, then emperor, Shi Le. He won over Shi’s men by convincing them he was a magician. He’s still considered a mystical figure, partly propelled by a legend that he took pills to induce a cicada-like metamorphosis. Cicadas have been the subjects of mythos for thousands of years in many countries with no physical connection. During the Han dynasty, the ancient Chinese would place a jade cicada in the mouth of the dead before burial as a symbol of
rebirth. The Oraibi people from the Hopi Tribe in the American Southwest carved cicadas to place with their dead to also symbolize resurrection. Resurrection is a fitting description for this bug that falls from the limbs of trees as a nymph, spends the vast majority of its time on Earth burrowed underground, and emerges to spend the last few weeks of its life in flight. The most famous species of cicada (though hardly the most common) returns every 13 or 17 years in a cloud. These periodical cicadas are part of the genus magicicada. Magi, as you can probably surmise, is from Latin, meaning magician, a nomenclature clearly designed to perpetuate its mythos. The word cicada, also derived from Latin, means tree cricket, though it is likely onomatopoeic. Characterized by its deafening hiss, in Japan, cicada species are identified by their individualsongs. The August cicada is called tsuku-tsuku-
boshi, an estimation of its mating call. Though ‘call’ is a bit of a specious description; cicadas don’t generate the sounds with their mouths. They use a tymbol, ribbed membranes on their thorax or abdomen. The bug’s side muscles contract, causing the membrane to bend inward and then release, forcing the tymbol to pop back into its resting position. Entomologists project the next 17 year cicada cloud will bubble up from DC soil in 2021. I hope Fotudeng, shrouded in mysticism, self-identified magi, will breath new life into our interpretation of this bug’s reemergence: he relinquished his position with the emperor for the chance at four weeks above ground, flying in the sun. To the city that reveres stress as ambition and drive as progress, take a moment to wonder at the remarkable life of a pest and know you don’t have to wait 17 years to stand in the sun.
straight lines :Katie West: Straight lines Become Not straight Curving with A bend In curving roads Holding on I fall For not ahold The waves On this road Wave me down I’m left Wondering if Left is right?
photograph by Katie West from the series ‘Transitioning Youth’
notes on turkish election day :Mattie Wong: I knew little to nothing about Turkey before coming here, knowing only that it’d be quite the adventure, and that it would get me out of the Schengen visa zone for enough time to re-enter without repercussions. It’s November 1st, 2015, and I’m in the city of Izmir, the third largest city by population in Turkey. The south-western coast of Turkey was historically populated by Greeks, and is the site of the ancient city of Smyrna. You can go see the Agora for 5TL (~$1.50) and ponder the mysteries of its uses while wandering through the neatly laid rows of collapsed columns with many a stray dog sunning himself. Looking up from the Agora is Mount Pagos (Kadifekale now), populated with boxy pastel homes and terraces. At the top waves a large Turkish flag. My friend Meryem tells me Mount Pagos used to be the heart and soul of Smryna, but in modern times, the neighborhoods are too dangerous to enter as a stranger. The Turkish flag and effigies of Kemel Ataturk adorn every lamp post, bus, balcony, and seems to be a popular color scheme among apartment buildings. It’s the most striking when you are standing on the boardwalk at the middle of the Gulf of Izmir, at which point you can see the arc of the city in it’s entirety on your left and your right, and from far away a band of red and white swoops around you, huge flags hanging from every sea-facing building. It seems like a marked symbol of defiance and message to the Greek islands not far from shore- “This is TURKEY.” The Greek population in Smyrna was large and important in the workings of the city up until the end of the Greco-Turkish war, when Kemel Ataturk regained control of the city on September 9, 1922. The Greeks and Armenians living there
were no longer welcome, leading to the massacre of the entirety of their populations. “They were driven to the sea by the fires, where they all drowned,” says Meryem, “some Turks tell this story as a victory story, but I do not agree with them.” This is a haunting parallel today, as many refugees from Syria and Afghanistan lose their lives crossing the Aegean sea from points along the Gulf of Izmir trying to reach the safety of the Greek Isles. Smyrna wasn’t known as Izmir until 1928, with the Turkish language’s switch from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin alphabet. Other changes in the city’s structure occurred, including the seemingly mundane construction of a highway that destroyed the shoreline and marinas. A few ferries leave from the “Feribot” terminal, but if you look out on the sea, you see a distinct lack of sails and motors. Another friend who lives near Izmir asks me as we drive into the city one day, “Have you ever seen so few boats out on the sea? There are no marinas, the boardwalk falls straight into the water, and if you fall in it is very difficult or impossible to get out. The Greeks were sea-people. Turkish are not. We do not know anything about the sea life here in Izmir. We know agri-culture, we know war-culture.” … Back to the original goal of this article. It’s Turkish Election Day. Sunday, and the streets are dreamily peaceful. Folded blankets drape over the backs of cafe chairs, inviting the hardy out for a cup of chai and a smoke. Today will decide if the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, can win the majority of seats in parliament. Erdoğan has made it very clear that he wishes to change the constitution of Turkey so that the presidential office has complete authority over the decisions of the country. He can only do this
if his party, the AKP, holds 60% of parlimentary seats. All this in the name of Efficiency, Progress, and Economic Stability. Why would anyone vote for such a scheme? Given the history of Turkish politics since the coup of 1980, I couldn’t blame someone for wanting a highly-functioning government, one way or the other. I won’t go into the details of the recent political history, onebecause it is exhausting, and two- an English/ Turkish journalist who goes by the pseudonym James, does a much better job. Expect to take an hour or two to make sense of his Turkish Politcal Roadmap, which you can find at http:// www.jamesinturkey.com/roundups/turkish-political-road-map/. Another concerning piece of the puzzle is Erdoğan’s and his party’s position towards the Kurds in the southeast of Turkey. While other parties openly include peace talks with the Kurds as part of their platform, Erdoğan’s regime is
hypsometric :James Conkling:
eerily silent. People can only imagine this means the worst for the Kurds. Besides the obvious impending danger, this could also mean more traction for ISIS in the north of Syria. Currently, those fighting ISIS the most are Kurdish fighters. A Syrian friend and I had a discussion about what the solution to Syria’s nightmare might be. He says, and thinks that many Syrians feel similar, that the way to stop the violence is to completely wipe out all traces of ISIS through firepower and multilateral action from the US, UK, Russia, et al. If that is not a possibility, the next is to sufficiently arm the Kurdish people so that they can be more effective against ISIS. I countered that the US would be unlikely to engage in another conflict in the area and even less likely to want to arm opposition groups, given our history of mistakes along these lines. Scary times, and an important election. Roughly ten hours until we know the results.
Not intended for navigational purposes. Use at your own risk. From a cartographer’s standpoint, this is a useless map of the Himalayas, created to explore an unusual color scheme. For context, the three lines that converge near the upper middle are the borders of China (to the north), Nepal (to the West), and India (to the East). The far east of the map is Bhutan.
photo by Caitlyn Edwards from the series ‘While You Were Out’
the projectionist :Jordan Jenkins: How did I get these scars? Which ones? I certainly couldn’t pick just one or two, could I? I think what’s pertinent here is what have these scars done for me? What turns has my life taken because of them? People say ‘Oh God has a reason, don’t worry lady. God always has a reason.’ And I think, that’s what people tell themselves when something bad happens. Like a beautiful couple has an ugly baby. Everyone comes over to see the little one for the first time and they say ‘What a looker. He’s got his father’s nose, and Diane; he has your eyes. Congratulations.’ And the two lucky parents look at each other after their guests have left. Diane searches the father’s face to see if he also thinks that the ugly kid has her beautiful eyes. The father is doing everything he can to not touch his perfectly carved nose, but it’s hard because that baby of his has the nose of a retired boxer. A hockey player. A blind man who never had a guide dog or a
cane. The two of them look at each other and raise their eyebrows, like this, see, not like they’re skeptical but more like ‘Oh well. God has a reason. We’ll love this monster no matter what.’ And you know what? They do love the kid. But it’s that law of relativity? Is that it? Probably not. But you know how people start to look like each other after spending so long together? Well that beautiful couple starts to look like that kid. The laws of magnetism are rarely so positive. So instead of the kid looking like the parents, the parents take on the kid’s ugliness and that’s all she wrote. Heard the one about the Chief and the fall? If you haven’t you really aren’t missing out but I think it’s a fun one to know. It’s true. Or maybe it’s false. At this point does it even matter?
It was right around the time the Chief opened the window to jump out that his wife walked in. ‘I’m going to jump out this window, goddamnit’ the Chief said. Patrick and John looked at each other in puzzlement. It was the first floor. Was it a threat, they both wondered silently, simultaneously. The Chief’s wild eyes focused on the window and said ‘I’ve had enough of this shitty coffee and I can’t but believe we are all doomed in the end.’ Patrick and John recounted the last four months in their perspective minds and they couldn’t blame the Chief. He had a point, they thought. The coffee had been shitty that morning and not to mention the whippings. They neither dealt said whippings, nor received them, but the whippings nonetheless troubled them. ‘Chief. Listen’ they both said. ‘The last four months have been difficult and yeah the coffee is awful but let’s look at the reality of the situation’ they continued. ‘That ain’t a far drop. If you wanted to do some damage to you or the ground it would be best to get higher.’ But that was the wrong thing to say, for the Chief’s eyes grew even bigger. He looked at the ceiling. The door, the other door, the big wall, the small wall, the stool Patrick usually sat on, the stool John usually sat on, the big board, the other board, the board with all the faces. He said ‘You don’t think I’m high enough to do damage?’ He screamed it. ‘I will destroy it all.’ And then he jumped. The Chief’s wife wailed and Patrick and John walked to her and put their hands on her shoulders. They were all looking where the Chief used to be. ‘Well, no use now’ they both said. ‘The Chief is dead’ they both said. Can you imagine the worthlessness of that? Have you seen that look in a musician’s eyes that conveys more than the words they could ever come up with? He sits there strumming his mandolin in that way that almost resembles a violin? The emotion it puts out? And you realize he could never voice anything equivalent to the music he’s making. What it’s saying? You think, wow he can really play that mandolin. You think, don’t think too deeply about it, don’t look at his eyes while he’s playing. Or you’ll cry. You’ll
cry. The good night you’re having will be tainted. Your eyes will puff. Your face will redden. All if you look in his eyes. And then you do. You look. And you cry. And your night’s ruined. And he puts down his mandolin and takes a drink of his beer and all that pain and melancholy disappears. He did what he needed in that moment. He’s ready to enjoy the night. Meanwhile, your face is fucked. Live music. Guess that’s the risk you take. There’s someone I’m thinking of now. He and I had something. He’d buy me flowers and write me these love letters on torn shreds of paper, like he’d just gotten this urge to write me and grabbed whatever he could. He would draw a little character in one of the corners. A grinning devil or something. The first night we met he brought me back to his apartment. It was a beautiful loft with a high ceiling and exposed ducts. Why do you think people like those? Those exposed ducts? Some kind of willful vulnerability. At one end of the loft was a wall of windows overlooking the street below. It’s a kind of magic, those windows, during the winter. It does make a space feel a little drafty, but you get this sense of victory over nature. The cold and snow held at bay by an inch or so of glass.
‘And he puts down his mandolin and takes a drink of his beer and all that pain and melancholy disappears. He did what he needed in that moment. He’s ready to enjoy the night. Meanwhile, your face is fucked. Live music. Guess that’s the risk you take.’ I remember the way he kissed my neck and how I was facing the windows as he did. Small flakes of snow were falling, contrasting with night. It was like a bottle of ink was overturned somewhere in heaven or the aether and dumped over the city. The flakes of white glowed and the reflection of his back in the glass was speckled with them and
moving like a sheet of music in an old player piano. I was filled with sadness in those days. I just stood there as he kissed me and moved around behind me. When he really loved me, when his passion overtook his tendency for apathy, he would do this thing where he’d trace his nose down the seam of my back, the indentation where my spine is. He’d go slowly and I could feel my flesh rise like braille. Slowly down and then back up to the space beneath my hairline and behind my ears. I leaned against the glass and felt its coldness, resisted the temptation to step away. I remember the two intense feelings, at odds with each other, even now. I looked down into the street, through the snow, and saw a man lying on a bench. He was sleeping or trying to. He had wrapped his arms around himself in an attempt to stay warm. I can’t imagine he ever was. For a while I watched him, and then left the window and walked through the dark to bed with the man I had met that night. Before we sit here and wonder and play around with the thought, I’ll say it. I was married once. Before these scars, I had a husband. He was a handsome man. He was so relaxed and confident that people often mistook him for dismissive. When you spoke to him he held an easy gaze, occasionally shifting his eyes to the right or left of you, making connections with what you were telling him. People say the best humans are the ones who listen and talk and without outright saying it, they get you to come to your own conclusions, to see the light in the situation by your own way. Don’t they say that? He thought he was lucky to have me, you know. The feeling that you got lucky? You know? He felt that way. It’s funny how people can talk themselves into a feeling. However he got that idea, I can’t say. But then, well I’m not married anymore. I faked my death. I had a funeral too. It was for the benefit of my family and friends. To make it easier on them. So they didn’t have to pretend anymore. They didn’t have to force themselves to make eye contact with me if I was dead. Can you imagine the looks your friends give you after half your face is melted off? I used to be looked at, you know? When I walked into a room peo-
ple’s eyes found their way to me. This was before all of these. People stopped conversations in the street, got held up by my beauty. When I was a teenager my mother started refusing to go places with me. She was once the pretty one, the eye candy, and it’s not that she ever stopped; she’s still that way today. It’s just that point, you know. Ok, think of it like this. Mothers and daughters are on this seesaw all through life. Mothers start off with everything, the upper hand. They are on the seesaw and it’s touching the ground. Daughters start off way up there, unstable, scared. My mother would hate this analogy.
‘He thought he was lucky to have me, you know. The feeling that you got lucky? You know? He felt that way. It’s funny how people can talk themselves into a feeling.’ For a while life goes on, the mother stays grounded, even though the seesaw makes little movements to level out. The daughter is growing up. She’s thinking for herself. She’s coming into herself. One day the mother sees that she’s nearly staring straight across into her daughter’s eyes. She’s frantic. She wants off the seesaw. She wants out. But apart from doing something drastic, she’s stuck. And the daughter, she doesn’t understand the mother’s increasing volatile nature toward her. Her mom is throwing little digs at her. ‘You’d look so much prettier if you parted your hair in the middle instead of the side.’ ‘You wear too much blue. Your eyes are green. Wear more green.’ But the daughter is getting so much attention from the rest of the world that what her mom is saying just doesn’t add up. ‘Why would Brian R. ask me out if he didn’t think I walked normally? Why did mom say that?’ It’s a real mind-fuck, right? Well the daughter stops taking what the mom says into account. There’s never a moment where her mom’s words don’t hurt. She never stops wishing her mom would go back to the loving person she was when she was younger.
But she can’t let her mom’s words have such an effect on her. She has to live, right? So the mother starts to notice and doesn’t understand. The father is oblivious all the while, of course. Can he really pay attention to three girls? Three. Get it? The daughter leaves to try her life somewhere else. She calls home often. Crying into the phone. Since the daughter’s been gone, the mother’s had a chance to reestablish herself. She offers great advice and so much love. Again the daughter is way up in the clouds on that seesaw. The mother has gotten a grip on herself. Sounds like schadenfreude, doesn’t it? The daughter starts getting by again and feeling good and confident, the way she always had. She finds a man who loves her and makes her feel special, who helps her up when she stumbles. Her mother loves him too. She loves him because she sees how happy he makes her daughter. He’s gentle, and it’s so clear. But then something happens to the daughter. A tragedy. A gigantic reminder that a person can only see so far ahead. That there are corners and sometimes you round one and there you are, knocked off the face of the Earth. The mother feels the seesaw start to balance again. But not the way it was before. She stays locked, looking straight into her daughter’s eyes. She can barely look, you know. The daughter tries to crawl along the board between them, she wants her mother to hold her. She needs it. But everything that’s happened to her, it’s too heavy. She can’t move. She can’t breathe. Her mother stops looking. She has to stop. One’s needs trump the other’s and the seesaw breaks and the mother walks away and the daughter can’t pick herself back up.
those tears. In his head he probably thought I was in a dark place. I was. I really was. But his empathy turned nasty. He lost his strength and his conviction and he couldn’t do anything about it. Do you know what’s more sad and misguided than a man on his knees crying into the stomach of the woman he loves because of the pain she’s in? Her holding his head and telling him it’s going to be all right? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything split apart. So, I let him go. I cut him loose, as they say. And I did the same thing with my friends and family. I made it easy on them. In the end, that’s all people want. They want it easy. And why shouldn’t they? You know. I laid in the casket the whole time too. They came up and said their peace and I just kept my eyes closed. I have never struggled so hard to keep a straight face. Can you believe those idiots? I work as a projectionist at one of the old theaters downtown. I’m up there switching reels and splicing tape and all that. The way it used to be, you know? All those movie stars, their faces twelve feet high. Just huge faces. I love it up there. If you want, I can take you. It’s closed now but I have the keys. I could show you the booth and we could fool around while the reels run out? Or you could sit out there, you know, where the audience sits? And I could play you a movie? Tell you a story?
Let me tell you the rest about my fake funeral. The thing about it was everyone knew it was fake. Everyone knew I was alive, but I told them if they came, they wouldn’t have to speak to me anymore. There were a lot of objections. But in the end, that’s what they wanted. It was similar in that way to my divorce, which was just before the funeral. He loved me too much. It turned selfish. He saw the pain I was in after and he couldn’t cope. I was in physical pain, sure, but his was emotional. Which is so much worse. Every time he’d look at me he’d start to cry. I think at first it was more for me, all
while you were out :Caitlyn Edwards: These images were all captured using an iPhone 6 and are intended to depict our dependence on technology during inactive pockets of time. All were taken while waiting for someone or something (arrivals, laundry, the sun to set) and represent an attention to detail - particularly light or lack thereof - when a body is idle.
day 23: on the road to chaco culture :Martin Phillip: Every summer, Martin Phillip crosses the U.S. on his trusty motorcylce, Blue. Here is an excerpt from his travel journal, more than three weeks into the trip. -Awake, and the coffee’s ready. I didn’t expect there to be so many ravens here. Well, I didn’t not expect it either...but there are a lot of ravens here. One is watching me from a low branch, head tilted to the side, ruffling his wings and screeching like he has been all morning. It’s a good thing I
don’t believe in omens and all that or this’d be terrifying. Almost ready, just need to strap the bags onto Blue, my reliable old friend, the unshakable Japanese motorcycle that’s gotten me from the DC gridlock through the New Orleans swamps and Oklahoma thunderheads
to this shady canyon campground. I’m west of the Rockies for the first time, or almost west of ‘em, I’m not exactly sure. Nearly to the desert, I think. No rush, anyway, there’s plenty of time to get to San Francisco, and everything to see. So I’ll slow down my early start with a smoke to clear my head and a few minutes to scribble something down.
myself and Blue, I got her swung around and onto the cool, piney valley road, climbing my way out to another day. I guess later I’ll have to check the sparks, or the starter. Not that I know how to check either of those things, let alone fix ‘em, but maybe the tattered shop manual buried in one saddlebag or the other will have some clues.
A stray dog is zagging his way towards me. He’s a mangy thing with short, wiry black hair over brown legs and belly. No collar. Wandering through my camp, half a dozen cautious feet from me, past where my faded yellow rainfly lays wrinkled and drying in the cold morning sun, he sniffs, looks at me, and past me, with baleful golden eyes.
I’ve lost any sense of hurry. Maybe it’s because I’m somewhat close, maybe because the ride is going well and I’m confident. Maybe just that I still have no clue what to expect out of the desert that is now, truly, in front of me. Excitement speeds me on my way, but is, I guess, tempered by fear. But this morning, I did finally reach the desert.
As I look up, having recorded the previous lines, he’s vanished. Certainly a bad day for the superstitious rider.
Riding west up the forest road leading out of Cimarron Canyon, the mountains began to open up in front of me. I topped a high ridge, and saw the trees around me had disappeared...no, wait, they were still there, but had shied back from the roadsides. I lost track of them because ahead of me and far below, filling the horizon end to end, was an expanse so vast and dry that it seemed impossible it could coexist with the cool, wet pine forest from which I emerged. Sand. Sand and far-off ridges spread out before me, pulling my eyes from the upcoming curve, nearly causing me to plummet prematurely, oblivious and awestruck, into the desert sea.
••• -Eating a greasy burger on a spongy bun at Wendy’s in Espanola. Almost didn’t get the bike out of camp this morning. With everything packed up and strapped down, I swung my leg over the saddle, hit the starter, and it just squeaked. I revved the throttle a few times and, after a couple stalls and exasperated breaths from
I imagine the expression on my face as I nearly careened over that edge was that of a man who grew to adulthood having never seen the ocean, only to awake suddenly one morning on a thin, dirty mattress in the middle of the Pacific. Fear, completely overtaken by a wonder that removed all concern for this body. Staring into the face of such a god as this, my brain ceased to fire the synapses that labeled me as my self. It was a body but not mine. Those synapses were a mind, but it was not my mind. How could these things be me, be mine, when what stretched out in front of me was so apparently myself and my body and my mind much more than this fleshy lump on a motorcycle. At that moment I, body and mind, belonged to the desert. And no, not even that I was really in it, or part of it, but I was it, and such a feeling overwhelmed any sense of self preservation. It was an experience I’d never felt before, and even as I write this now, just a few hours later, I can barely recall the sensation. Fortunately, a distant primal glimmer of
instinct took hold, and leaned the body that wasn’t mine into the corner and twisted a right hand, whoever it belonged to, revving Blue’s throttle up and pushing her around the corner to safely begin descending into this dead, mysterious sea. Jade mountains rising to my left, a sandy hill falling to my right; I shakily repossessed my body and mind and descended irresolutely westward. The hill drifted down in a patchwork of gray-green scrub towards a sprawl of tin and blue roofs, pink stucco walls and beige Winnebagos. Taos. The city on the edge. To the north and south of the desert outpost, the great speckled arms of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains reached futily into the desert. With a mighty effort, their piney appendages clawed at the flat endless sand, until they collapsed, exhausted, into the golden dirt, succumbing a laughable distance outside of Taos. Beyond the dusty pink town, the golden ocean stretched out to gloomy plateaus and lonely peaks on the low desert horizon. I watched these massive creatures, giants stalking the horizon, circling and dancing with each other, gravely presiding over their silent domain. Looking out past Taos through the embrace of the Sangre De Cristo Range in a trance, I was jolted back to reality as the road began to dip and buck wildly, swinging around a massive curve with a 100ft drop to the inside and a jagged red rock wall to the outside. Before that curve had straightened itself out, the road twisted back the other way and swung up and up through a dynamite red man-made canyon. I swung back across my center of gravity and rolled on the throttle as Blue roared through the turn, guzzling down the cold mountain air.
As we - myself, the road, Blue - topped the ridge, the road disappeared, and it seemed we were about to be hurled over the edge and come crashing through the roof of some poor schmuck’s Winnebago until, at the last second, my eyes caught the road veering left barely in time to lean Blue into the curve and accelerate. Then a sharp dip down, throttle up and scream down the hill. So this road went, mountain and desert backdrops rising and setting as we flew across long ridges and dove down into narrow canyons. I was riding
the roller coaster on the edge of the world. Eventually the road smoothed out into gentle hills and long, easy curves, descending slowly to the desert floor. I had probably dropped 2000 feet in the course of, god, I’ll never know how long. But, shit, what a ride! Crossing a bridge I saw, 50 feet below me, a river dotted with neon orange rafts full of tourists in brightly colored blue and pink and orange life vests floating in small groups toward the rapids. The Rio Grande. I rode alongside the river that was, until now, just a name in my head, a distant, exotic, formless stream. It grew from narrow, rocky rapids to a placid expanse of warm, drifting, swirling water, from a dream to a traveling companion. Miles later, Blue and I crossed a narrow bridge, leaving the river behind as we climbed out of its lush valley, up the side of a sandy, scrubby hill to emerge in dry, dead, open space. A fading green sign labeled it the Ohkey Owingeh Pueblo, ‘Place of the Strong People,” home of Tewa Indians. Guess I’ll have to trust it. That’s about when we made it here, to Espanola, another sandy pink town where I’ve gotten almost a full phone charge and a few good pages of chickenscratch. On the advice of some other riders I met at a camp a little ways back, I think I’ll change course to take Route 126 through Los Alamos. I guess that camp was the last time I’ve said anything to anyone, other than food orders and thank yous, in two - no - three days. I barely notice my silence most of the time, but when I speak the scratchy, forced noises that come out sound like a rusty trumpet played by a drunk amateur. The long silences were so strange when I first set out, but now they’re the comfortable norm. On the backside of Los Alamos, I’ll head out to camp by the Pueblo Bonito ruins in Chaco Culture National Park. Hoping for a short day, early camp, and a quiet moment with my cheese, bread, and pen scratch dinner. ••• -In Cuba, New Mexico on the dry side of a small, toothless storm.
I’m at one of those gas station/restaurant/ grocery store/souvenir shop combos that serve as the sole outlets of commerce in these small American towns, the ones Eisenhower and his freeways avoided. Hit a little rain after that last entry, nothing major, nothing like Oklahoma. But I’ve stopped to catch up this journal with my day and let my black PVC raingear hang on Blue’s handlebars to dry. Across the street, unseen behind a chain link fence, someone is blaring Benny & the Jets to an empty, scrubby lot. I headed out of Espanola, crossing again over Rio Grande, now rail thin and muddy red, and on out into the desert sea. I flew around the bottoms of mesas and mountainous plateaus, flipping Blue back and forth through the long curves. From the road, I couldn’t really get a sense of the form of these things. Only an approximation of their size, like a cockroach admiring the immensity and beauty of the foot about to crush it, unaware of the aging human behind it. Blue, my shadow, and I skittered around the ankles of the giants. I climbed the sharp edge of a sandy mountain and, topping it, looked out on a city teeming with cars and glassy buildings stretching miles along the edge of a canyon. I hadn’t seen a population this dense since the south - Baton Rouge or maybe Shreveport. It was Los Alamos. The Atomic City, or so the signs on the sides of the buses told me. After passing an ID check to access Route 126, I climbed the sharp curves up and up through ramrod pines and ghostly birches. Signed ominously indicated “Tech Areas” 1 through 20 off to one side of the road, hidden behind secure government trees and guarded by secret agent squirrels. I capped the first great mountain behind Los Alamos, then went flying down twisty roads into a chilly valley. Descending into the dark valley, I took a side road. I think it was a wrong turn, a mistake, and it let to 15 miles of a wrist rattling dirt and clay road. But I didn’t mind - it was just me, the rocks and the cows, a rare moment of isolation on my solitary trip. The road climbed to a gray rock outcropping, a massive porch overlooking hard-scrabble range land, round hills dotted in sagebrush and free roaming cattle, and the collapsed shells of weather-beaten shacks. I stopped to have a smoke and tighten up the luggage.
I had definitely reached the desert this morning, but this was no desert. Nor was the forest behind Los Alamos, or the city itself. I guess I had thought that when I got to the desert I was there, and it would be a straight shot through dunes and scorpions until I struck water and civilization once more. Maybe that’s how it is in the Mojave, or the Sahara, but this, this is the high desert. A single road from the mud of the Rio Grande to the peaks of the Sierras, an unending, ever-changing jumble of sand and sage, mountain and range, danger, discovery, and self. The landscape wouldn’t hold still for a single moment. And I was content. Perhaps, resting on the round grey outcropping in the cool mountains, perhaps I forgot the sharp edges and blind curves behind me, forgot there were more ahead. Happy and high, I rumbled back down through the forest, between meadows of cows giving me bemused, vacant looks. Some had wandered into the road. I didn’t care. Giddy in my isolation, I let loose hoarse cries from the rusty instrument between my lips. “Get goin ya fucker!” “Some of us got places to be!” “Get a job ya lazy shit! I can’t do everything for ya, can I?!” I hollered and honked and revved the throttle and bounced in the saddle. Unamused and uninterested, they would wander off, if only to shut me up, and Blue and I just kept rattling our way towards Chaco. A few cold drops of rain started to fall as I returned to pavement, and I careened down the long broad mountain curves at full tilt, screaming down onto the flat plains where I located Cuba, a meal, and this dry spot to write. ••• -Near, but not near enough to Chaco Culture National Park. I’ll have to fill in the scenic details from Cuba and beyond another day. Time is short and this has to be written down before it fades from memory along with so much else.
I’m sheltering from the wind and rain hunched under a low overhang, on the side of a long, awful dirt road. My back rests on a jagged wall spotted with rubbings of bear fur. Bears roar, or more likely cows low, in the distance. In the gathering dark and panic, I can’t tell which. I drove out of Cuba on route 550N and had just passed the continental divide when I broke from the main highway, heading towards towards Chaco, an early camp, and a stoned walk through the sand and ruins. The park was well marked, and the road paved at first. I wasn’t worried when it turned to dirt, I mean, I’d handled that last dirt road, and this one wasn’t nearly as rocky. I soon realized this one was far worse. Without rocks to hold the sand together, the big loose suspension pickups flying up and down the road had covered it in the worst washboard bumps you can imagine, running edge to edge across the road with no escape but the soft, sandy gullies on either side. Blue and I could barely manage 2nd gear and 10mph. I was taking it slow, bouncing my ass off and trying to compensate for the sharp, cold wind blowing a rain storm in from the south. The road ran along the top of a mesa, where the wind, I now know, is brutal. Keeping careful eye on a truck in my mirror, who I knew was about to go blowing past and kick up a cloud of dust and rocks in my face, as a dozen other already had, I swerved left around a ditch. I caught a glint of white in my eye, and swung Blue back just in time to miss the asshole passing me. He must have jammed on the gas as soon as I took my eyes off him. I rammed straight into the pothole, wrestled with all my strength to hold the bars straight, slipping and skidding over rocks, holding the throttle too tightly so each hard bump sends Blue jolting forward as my hand slips. I barely managed to haul the bike to a stop, nearly dropping it on one side, then the other. I flipped off the receding truck, honked, revved the engine and flipped him off again. He stopped, and I saw his and his stupid little dog’s silhouette through the rear window. He gave a half-assed wave and drives off. Fucker. You fucking fucker scumshit. Now I’m livid. I take off, trying hard to stay
calm and remember Pirsig. The assholes flying past me in the other direction, throwing up more waves of dust and rocks didn’t help. Neither did that wind, knocking the wheels out from under me. Neither did this fucking road. I’m mad, riding harder than I should. Even now, as I write, my hands are shaking raging at the memory of it. I tried to take the smoothest line through the rocks and washboarding, but I was distracted. I should’ve just stuck Blue in first and dealt with it for 11 tedious miles, but all I wanted was to get off this road. That, and to find that scumbag at the campground, to give him a piece of my mind. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why the fuck would you pass me so close, do you think it’s fun, do you think it’s easy to ride a bike down this road? Then you saw me stop, you stop and know you fucked up, and you keep driving? What the actual fuck is wrong with you?” Over and over I rehearsed my speech, perfecting it, yelling it to the empty range - not even cows to hear me now. Forgetting the road in front of me, I am focused too much on the road in my rearview. I wanted to let him have it - more than I wanted to be safe, than I wanted to be alive. I made it a few furious miles, then hear a crack. Thought it was my water bottle, which had skittered out from under its bungee cord once or twice before. But, this being the desert, I really needed that. Reluctantly I stopped. I climbed off and walked back up the road. As I walked, I spotted a black shape in the gully that, I soon see, is my backpack, the busted old Sierra Club book bag that contained my tent, my stove, and other extremely necessary pieces of gear. Without it, you could call me well and truly fucked. Fortunately it is undamaged. I place it back on the fender and go to reattach the bungee that holds it on, and only then see the saddlebag hanging limp, nearly resting on the scalding exhaust. One of two bolts holding my food and gear had failed, loosing the green bungee and tossing my only shelter into a ditch. Without that bolt my faux leather bag dangled uselessly, rendering the whole bike inoperable, the whole trip in danger of an ignoble end. The bolt had fallen into the bag. Lucky. I tried to screw it back in, but after little prog-
ress it popped loose again. Had a cigarette. Three more failures. Had another. Took deep breaths. Every time I thought the bolt was going in, I gave the bag a slight tug to check, and it popped right back out. The more I fucked up, the more I looked south at the dark clouds rolling toward me, the more the frigid wind bit down on me. No shelter, no help, no way to move on without this bolt. If I got stuck here, hell, there was no way my 15 year old tent could handle this unobstructed wind, let alone the driving rain and lightning it was bringing along. First time since I left DC that a situation was stressfully, frighteningly, dangerously bad.
I really thought I was gonna miss that storm. Guess that was a few hours ago now, before that asshole and his dog….nope, not the time for that again. I bounced my way on down the road easily at first, almost starting to enjoy myself. I was a bit high, to be fair, and now more than happy to go slow. not that it mattered when the rain hit.
At least I’d had the companionship of momentum and adrenaline to drive me underneath those ungodly Oklahoma thunderheads. Here? Here there was no lightning, no sound, no fury. Just a cold wind, a broken bolt, and a silent engine.
I can’t ride in this, I thought, it’s slightly more stupid than stopping here.
I knew how to fix it, but that wasn’t good enough. I took a few more puffs. I stared north, away from the storm, across the sand and scrub to the horizon, no, just to the edge of the mesa. Here, the edge was the horizon, the world ended there, and no fast-talking Italian explorers were going to sail to the other side. This world was flat. It came in a flash, a thought so quick and dense that only now am I able to unpack it into words: I had to stop thinking about rain and wind and thunder, of trucks and dogs and dust and assholes, of self-righteous speeches. I had to stop thinking. There was only one bolt. Blue didn’t need to be “fixed,” she just needed one bolt to do what one bolt does. The rest of the bike, the trip, me - all irrelevant, so I had to let everything go but that one bolt. I switched out my ratchet for a crescent wrench, so I could apply steady strong pressure with my free hand to the head of the bolt. I turned it slowly, methodically. I perched the bag up on my knee so the bolt could go in straight. If it popped out, I readjusted my position, put as much of my weight and focus on that bolt as possible, somehow finding more and more pressure each time. Each time I forgot the last try and began again. Steadily, on attempt five or five thousand, it screwed in and held itself there. I wanted to collapse in a heap of relief. Instead, I repacked Blue. The first few drops started to hit. Well, shit.
Light, prickly, icy rain slanted down onto the mesa. The road became muddy and loose, and visibility got low. It was too wet to ride anywhere near the smooth edges of the road, and slippery even on the hard pack in the middle.
I looked around, saw I was now in a low canyon - some caves and lots of rock overhangs in the volcanic rock, put there by the bubbling magma millions of years ago. Million year old swiss cheese to camp in. Great! Without hesitation or thought, I found the hardest patch of road I could, threw down the kickstand, snatched off the backpack and tailbag, covered the bike and, arms full of gear, ran for a nice, big cave. Shit, it actually looked like a nice camp, roomy and safe from the biting wind. Even better than a real camp - no kids, no RVs, just me and the stars! Soaked and frigid, I jumped a muddy creek, and ran across the a few hundred feet of scrubby grazing fields towards the cave. Fuck, I think, lotsa things could think that’s a nice house. I pictured bears, coyotes, spiders, who knows what else. Why didn’t I grab the knife! That’s why I brought THE GODDAMN KNIFE! I ruefully pictured that shining nine inch, double edged blade, my only defense as I’m neither a brave nor athletic man. I swore at myself again. I pictured the shining blade in its matte plastic sheath, sitting useless on the bike. I approach wide mouth of the cave carefully. No one home. Cool.
There are lots of big black rocks though. Shit. That looks like shit. Kick one. It breaks apart. It’s light brown inside. Shit. Bear shit. Adult and cub size. Momma bear is here somewhere and she is not gonna want to see me. I ran outta there, and, crossing the river at a different point, see a solitary bear print in the mud. That can’t have been there long in this rain. Shit. I got across the road to nice overhang, too small for a bear to live in, barely big enough for me to fit under. I threw my gear in the mud and ran back for the knife. I strapped it to my belt, and that’s where it’s staying for the rest of this trip. However long that is. I’ve been holed up under the overhang for a couple hours now. There are definitely bears here too - there’s old dusty shit nearby, fur rubbed on the wall - they don’t live here, but they certainly pass through. I keep grabbing the textured rubber grip on the knife, it’s reassuring, not that I know what I would do with it if an actual bear showed up. Play dead, I guess, and if it starts to chew on me anyway, hope I can manage a good enough jab at its throat to give me time to get away. I picture that scenario over and over. It is far less comforting than rehearsing my speech to the asshole, his dog, and his truck. ••• -Finally at Chaco, trying to block out the hum of a generator with smoke and ink.
The sun was setting fast as the rain finally cleared, so I made a panicked dash to load the gear, jump on the bike and go tottering down the road at lightning speed. After that near run in with the bears, I felt I had to make it to camp. No choice. Fear drove me through the gathering dark, but I still couldn’t hit those bumps at speed for fear of permanently fucking up my saddlebag. Or my face. I tried to ride on the sandy shoulders, which dipped down into gullies for long stretches. They often dead-ended in rusty tin culverts, meaning I had about 20 seconds to take all 650-plus pounds of me, Blue, and gear up three feet of deep, loose sand on a 45 degree slope. The first time I tried it, I was sure we were going down. I had no choice, had to try and get back up to the road while I still had momentum - if I stopped, at the very best I’d have to backtrack to a high point. Most likely, we’d sink into the deep sand and be stuck ‘til the trucks came at dawn. But, she did it. Spittin’ and twistin’ and scramblin’, Blue made it up the side of that gully. Five times. She saved my ass, over and over, in ways I never could have expected that bike to perform. A cheap Japanese V-Twin, as far from a dirt bike or dual sport as you get, but she made it. I decided then and there she’d never be sold again. Mercifully, with just two miles left to camp, the road got a fresh coat of pavement. God knows why they bothered, but I was glad. I jammed on the throttle and came screaming into the campground roundabout well after dark. I cruised around the place, real slow, knife hanging from my belt. I told myself I was looking for an empty tent site, but I passed them all up ‘til I’d made a full circle of the camp. Really, I was looking for my pal and his stupid dog. I think I made a lot of people nervous, in retrospect, riding a motorcycle slowly around camp, staring into campsites. Then doing it again, walking with a cigarette. But I really wanted to find him. Of course, there was no sign of him. I pitched an angry tent and, with no firewood nearby, leaned on Blue in the darkness, staring off into the desert, trying to avoid the happy fires and grating squeals and shouts from nearby camps. Too nearby, practically on top of each other, as bad as the camp-
grounds along the crowded coasts. There had been no sign of him, which meant that piece of literal excrement had not only run me off the road earlier, but driven back the other way, past a disabled bike strikingly similar to the one that he had nearly wrecked a few hours before, and just went along with his day. Piece of shit. Piece of fucking shit. Motherfucking useless piece of scrap flesh that was allowed to walk around and act like a real human being. I was - I am mad. At his obliviousness, his carelessness, at my own. At least now I can be angry without putting Blue, myself, the trip in danger. Anger and frustration, I guess, have become privileges I can only afford at camp. I had managed to let go of my anger earlier, when a broken bolt and an encroaching rainstorm forced me to. Stranded on the darkening mesa, the only way forward was to put my full self fully into that rusted, weathered bolt. Of course, all it takes is a near runin with an angry, 500 pound mama bear to firmly reconnect that lofty notion of self with this bag of fat, flesh, and fearfully sparking neurons. This morning, my self had become the full unending expanse of the desert. I had left my body and become one and the same with the sea beyond Taos. The desert had reached through virgin eyes to pull myself from my body. Unsurprisingly, it was far easier when the desert, which of course knows nothing of fear and bolts, did it for me. Now, in the moonless camp, I remember but no longer feel the wordless little epiphany that allowed me to ever so briefly recreate the miracle of my first sighting of the desert. It is not permanent, I did not ‘see the light’ and become a better man. I sensed the truth of my situation just enough to fix it, and though you may think that would’ve endowed me with some inner zen-ness, that I would then ride calmly to camp, sleep with the bears, forgive the offender, find inner harmony, it didn’t. It doesn’t. It never will. It was a break in the storm, a silence between the discordant notes of a rusted trumpet.
And here I am, the end of my day, a camp that’s really more of a sad fence enclosure. They built little sandboxes to pitch your tent in, not that most people need ‘em. They dragged their massive RVs out here, all with ridiculous names like Outback, Marauder, and Frontiersman. The only name that made any sense was a 50-foot black and silver monstrosity called Momentum III. Two of these cravens, retirees I guess, had actually set up a 40-inch TV and were sitting by their fire watching Die Hard. I shit you not - I truly wish I made that up. Here were two people who, in their 70-plus years on Earth, learned to be happier watching Die Hard than a new moon in the pale desert. Too judgmental? I don’t know. I guess I’m acting a bit crazy. But I dealt with some real shit today. It was good, I worked it out, I got through it. I kept my head, for the most part. But it was real. It was good, bad, and boring. Like the desert where I found forests and mountains, it had a chaotic rhythm. Undulating beauty, calm, terror, stress. Dry, hot, humid, frigid, tiring, exhilarating, mundane. Unique, ephemeral, interminable. I listened to a crow, locked eyes with a dog, and yelled at cows on the range. And here are these blithe motherfuckers that just dragged their rolling apartments down here like it’s all that easy. Feeling like they’re outside, but really just parking their fat asses in some other place without leaving the living room behind. They got here without the bears, the storms, the roads. They sealed themselves up inside the Momentum III so they didn’t have to touch all the crazy awesome terrifying natural stuff that makes the desert hard, that makes it the desert. They drove through it, that’s all.
cars n towns :Alexandra Haniford:
Automobiles are a sanctuary, a safe space, a mode of transportation, a source
of income, and sometimes even a home to those who live in rural communities
and small suburbs of the South. Explore the landscape of towns built to suit a
lifestyle that heavily revolves around citizensâ€™ ownership of their own vehicles.
rotting. dying. forgiving? :Michael Hechme: “It’s February 2nd, 2013. It is the eve of what I believe will be the death of my father. He is currently laying in a bed starving and gasping for breath. Maybe wondering which gasp will be his last. Whether his mind is present, is uncertain. I’m not quite sure how I feel about his death, or upcoming death rather. I have no sympathy for him. I have developed so much hate for him over the years; but as a human you cannot help but feel bad. No man or woman should have to suffer and feel pain the way he is currently.” I remember writing this down like it was yesterday. Suspicion filled my gut that night; I had the impending feeling that bad news was on the way. The knots and butterflies floating around were making me lose my appetite. Even something as delicious as ice cream couldn’t make me eat, for I knew what was coming. For two long years he had laid helplessly in the musty, rotting, yet somehow sterile nursing home, just waiting for death to knock on his door. I remember when I used to visit him -- the smell of piss, shit, and old people would creep into your nose and make you gag and want to vomit. I remember the cheap shiny linoleum floor tiles, all green and white with the occasional turquoise tile fitted in after a repair. I remember walking into his room, swoosh-swish-swoosh his respirator would say, as if it was some sort of alien-like lullaby soothing him to sleep. Sleep was the only thing for him to do. I remember walking over to him and attempting to hold his hands, calloused by years of architectural modeling and carpentry, but not being able to bring myself to do it. I couldn’t show any weakness, not for him, and not now. I remember the yellow and white goop slowly dripping from the hole in his throat, slipping outside the boundaries of the tube that was stuffed within, forming a puddle on the small white bib they had placed around his neck. Swoosh-swish-swoosh. He coughed, turning purple in the process. With wide eyes he looked
directly at me with his face turning all variations of crimson, azure and violet, trying to sit up while he spewed all the phantom objects in his stomach, but to no avail. Swoosh-swish-swoosh. The nurse strolled in as if it were a normal occurrence. She had a weathered look to her, like she had seen this too many times and accepted it for what it was. There was a strength to her that reminded me of a caring but stern grandmother. She reached for a package and unearthed a clear tube with a nozzle on the end, then connecting the opposite end to a machine that looked like something from a horror movie. With the nozzle in her right hand, she took her left hand and removed the tube providing my father with oxygen, pulled it out of his throat, then inserted the suction hose nozzle into the gaping hole. She slid the new tube gently down his esophagus, then stopped. With a flick of a switch the machine rumbled and roared, so loud it made me jump. Slurp-sludge-slurp, the sucking noises it made as it sucked up his amber, ivory, and seafoam goop from within his chest cavity. His face turned a deep purple; his pain unbearable to watch. At this moment I realized this would be his life from now on -- living in this shit-hole of a nursing home, getting his chest suctioned a few times per day, his atrophied muscles keeping him bedridden and a feeding tube connected directly to his stomach pumping in a white chalky liquid that was aiding him in his fruitless survival. This would be the life of a man who was never there for me as a child. The “stranger in the room” I used to call him. Now I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. I remember feeling terrible for him as human being, but as my father I couldn’t bring myself to feel sympathy.
photograph by Christopher Ronan Conway
unusual occurences in the desert :Christopher Ronan Conway: [Warren McGeverin, a middle-aged city worker, awakes on an ordinary morning in a life in which he has been coasting contentedly. However, he starts to feel a sense of impending doom he just canâ€™t shake. He goes to his office, makes the usual quips and snide remarks, but they donâ€™t sustain him as they normally do. He goes home, hoping his wife Teresa will agree to a never-heard-of spontaneous trip upstate. He excitedly pitches his idea, but, inside him, his heart begins to fail.]
Warren knelt to the floor. He vaguely thought that he could not remember the last time he knelt anywhere, or saw his house from this angle; he was generally quite good about using his furniture and rooms in their intended manners, not sitting in odd ways on the chair, or crawling around like a dog. He swallowed hard, feeling his saliva push past what felt like a knot of ropes waxing in his ribcage. A mile and a half away, FDNY ambulance 48-Eddie rumbled along Fourth Avenue southbound with Mariel keeping one hand on the wheel and her right hand on the siren knob, watching calmly but intently the column of traffic shifting to the right as she maintained forty miles per hour. From a firehouse a few blocks distant, an engine company was already on its way, along with two NYPD radio motor patrols and a Conditions Boss all activated and interested to see what as the matter with Warren. Barely conscious of a combined several million dollars’ worth of training, equipment, and infrastructure his taxes paid for rushing to his door, Warren steadied himself against the floor on the balls of his hands. Theresa’s hand was on his left shoulder, saying something that sounded like it was coming through water. Warren’s chest felt crushed like a vice, and his breathing was labored like he had just his lips spouting out of a pool of water. A sense of doom like a rushing wall of black water reared up against him in a humongous tidal wave; he felt like someone had swung a pickaxe into the side of his head and his consciousness was escaping upwards, shooting out and dissipating like champagne bubbles, rocketing from his body until just the remnant was left. And that last remnant was aware of slumping straight forward onto hardwood floor, and the faintest tinge of pain as his nose broke against the wood, so far away it seemed senseless and futile to even regard it as pain. The world went black, and Theresa’s call of “Warren!” faded into a dread silence. Warren McGeverin had a vision of himself – or that he best could have described it – as a small lizard running frantically across a vast flat desert. The sky was brightly lit with images from his life as if beamed by a projector, from his boyhood’s earliest memories onwards. On the horizon, immensely tall, immeasurably vast, dark as a starless night sky, was a mountain range towards which he raced closer every second. He knew the mountains were his death. Many years he had been only dimly aware of them on the horizon, the distractions of the life-at-hand seeming so malevolent to him now – how had he missed those mountains. As years passed they grew closer and closer, the mileage spanning his
body to them decreasing, and yet he had paid them no regard. Across the sky, filling his vision, he walked as a child from the Fordham Road into Devoe Park, yellow leaves making a carpet across the grass. He was a gangly teenager curtly waving to Father Rafferty standing outside Mount Saint Ursula while “Band On the Run” played faintly from a window high up in a tenement. The Archway on Jerome Avenue, running his hand along the cottoned hip of a girl with cropped blond hair, and his heart beat electric in anticipation. It was Times Square, it must have been 1986 or was it 1988, and he and Teresa walked over a sidewalk grate to pass around a shoeless man splayed across the floor – her heel slipped in the grate. Christ almighty, had he ever left this city? And as the images of life on the sky sped up – his marriage, his children’s childhoods, the petty accomplishments of his career flying by faster than the images had been before, Warren was for the first time in his life that he, himself, his memories, his tastes and fancies and desires, his jealousies and moments of true affection, the handful of moments in his life where he had been truly content, ever girl he ever loved, everything he ever known, had gained the base of the mountain range and was at long last ready to be extinguished. Words rang in his mind as if spoken by a schizoid voice outside him- He is never coming back. —Four-eight-eddie, your cardiac condition has been upgraded to an arrest. —Oh shit— said Mariel to Kevin, and into the radio said, —Ten-four. Can we get another unit forthwith to back us on the job? Most of the arrests that Mariel were dispatched to were not arrests – Central’s policy was to send out the cavalry for even the slightest suspicion of a cardiac or respiratory arrest, whether it was a confirmed shots fired job or a fifteen-yearold mother mumbling into a phone —Mmm, my child ain’t breathing right. Mariel pulled up behind a fire engine, on a dark block lined with brownstones tucked behind a line of tall oaks. An NYPD sedan was in front of the engine. Mariel reached beneath her seat and clicked off the ambulance power supply, slid out of the vehicle, and walked around while Kevin pulled the bag from the side compartment. As they walked up the stairs they could discern voices from inside – and then a woman’s scream – extended, trailing off into a groan of horror. Mariel’s adrenaline clicked on, a wave of energy and focus rising from her belly straight into her brain. A real arrest. She took the last two steps at once and
entered the house, holding the AED high to not strike the foyer tables, forcing the tunnel vision to widen. Mariel followed the voices through the dining room where two teenagers stood mouths agape; one had a hand on the other’s shoulder, clenched tight on flesh. In the middle of the living room floor lay the star of the show, his chest laid bare as the firemen worked the arrest. One firmly pumped his clasped hands rhythmically down onto the gentleman’s chest, his broken sternum floating free, while another held a bag-valve mask over his lips and struck buttons on the AED. Three other firemen waited to switch roles, while another attempted to get what information he could from what Mariel imagined to be the wife, whose body was in the living room but who was hiding her face behind the threshold of the passage into the dining room as if she were refusing to acknowledge. Teresa breathed out, conscious she needed to calm herself, and answer the questions, but a strained sound like a growl. She couldn’t look down to the ground – not to Warren in so unnatural a position – so she looked at the face of the fireman questioning her. White hair, firm jaw, haggard in this moment with the rush of proximate death. She looked past him to his colleagues, finding no solace in their grim Irish faces. She knew her screaming meant nothing to them, veterans of a thousand arrests, and DOAs, and car accidents with unbelted pediatric patients, and teens lying in a street with their caps peeled back and their baby faces blown apart by gunshots, and the World Trade Center for even some of them. Away from the horror of her lizard mind, Teresa considered this level of jaded disregard, and convinced herself, they’re professionals, they have done this a million times, they know what they’re doing. The EMTs knelt down and took their positions around Warren’s still body. Teresa heard a woman’s digital voice speaking over the din, and she hid her face further behind the threshold, looking straight into the corner of the dining room wall, refusing to look at the photos of the family lining the space above the corner table. —Have you shocked him yet? —Negative K. Just got here, machine still analyzing. —Give it a second. Okay, do the honors? —Clear.
—Clear. A jolt of electricity passed across the inside of Warren’s chest. His eyes remained shut. At the house’s front door two more officers of the law walked, looking for aid to be rendered. Teresa began to softly say — Warren, Warren—as the truth of it all set in. And Warren wasn’t there. There was a small, almost infinitesimal remnant of his conscious self, in what location Warren could not say. Warren (or what could be said to remain of Warren) perceived himself first as a being as small as a single cell, blind and dumb, merely existing in a flat endless void. Simultaneously, Warren perceived himself as big as the entire universe, as the universe itself, mighty in its catholicity, no different in structure from the cell. The feelings were not altogether unpleasant, though the shred of reasoning left to him wondered – so is this death? Am I one with the universe now? Is this what it is to be forever? It’s not so terrible. There is no hell to be tortured in, there is no God to resent, but where is everyone else who died before me? And then Warren was not alone. He was somewhere near the ceiling of his living room, looking straight down at a cast of persons he did not recognize. Two police officers and a sergeant were regarding the scene dispassionately from the dining room door; Theresa stood behind them, her hands covering her mouth, shielding herself behind the cops. Six firemen, two EMTs, and two paramedics had made an unholy mess of bags and tape and packaging and trash all over the hardwood floor – and under all of them was Warren’s own naked chest, ribs creaking and groaning under the latexed fists of a burly balding fireman with a Virgin Mary pendant swinging from the front of his light blue buttoned shirt. Warren felt his first sense of unease as a dead man (if he was indeed dead) to see his hairy stomach moving rhythmically in a grotesque and entirely unarousing fashion to the beat of the chest compressions. Warren surveyed for a moment, getting used to himself as what was apparently some sort of spirit or ghoul. It felt natural now – like he had just slid into a new form of existence with minimal bumping against walls – but entirely unfamiliar at the same time. He sought to shut his eyes, but he had no eyes to shut. He saw all – his eyes instantly drawn to one of the cops standing along the wall. Wavy hair, olive skin, conspicuously detached. All eyes in the room were drawn to Warren’s lifeless body but the wavy-haired cop looked elsewhere. The wavy-haired cop looked to the table – to the crystal ornament of Grand
Turk, perched on the table – cat-like he raised his hand and scooped it downwards off the table into his palm, and then into the pocket of his BDUs. So audacious and petty it was almost comical to Warren! He felt a stab of anger, but it was distant as a galaxy. There was nothing truly to feel, nothing truly to matter –
As Fire and EMS pulled the AED tabs off of him, Warren pointed with all his strength and passion at the cop, who seemed to shrink against the wall. Teresa knelt down, and Michael and Melissa at once rushed into the room, both in tears.
Beneath the layers of space and time, on the floor of Warren’s living room –
—Whaddya want to shock him again for. Telemetry already called it. Push the bicarb and be done. —I’m just going to shock one more time. Kevin said under his breath, so the family could not hear: —All you’re doing is microwaving him. Christ, you’re a sick bastard. He’s cooked enough. —Let me do another.
—I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m more than fine. Everything will be okay— Warren said, gazing briefly and more confidently than ever in his life at his family’s faces. And then he turned back to the wavy-haired cop: —You have my crystal ornament. Give it back. I saw you, you bastard, and by God, Mary-Bridget saw you too, god damn you. —He’s confused—said the Conditions Boss. — We ought to keep bagging him. Pulseless for seven minutes, his mind is confused. Get the stretcher.
Like a slap to the top of a record player were the two hundred joules that coursed across Warren’s spastic heart – a sudden, offended halt of function, and then a few tentative beats of adequate perfusion. Operations commencing as normal. A misbehaving computer monitor crackling and resuming. Lingering in the atoms above his reanimated remains, the elemental consciousness of Warren McGeverin felt the sensation of being yanked downwards, the world shrinking to pinpoints, dreamlike.
As he said this, the wavy-haired cop’s eyes widened with dawning comprehension, while his sergeant offered a suspicious regard:
Blind, Warren felt the sense of a storage of physical strength just waiting to be expended – he rolled to his right, an animal noise leaving his vocal cords. He opened his eyes for the first time in seven minutes, and Christ – the light, the color, all was offensive to him, garish and false, his gorge rising and – Warren vomited to his left, inhaled, coughed, vomited more, a whirl of cacophany like train cars clanging together.
—Forgive me. You’re a prophet. Tell me, what did you see?
—Cunha, you look like you saw a ghost. PO Cunha removed the crystal ornament from his pocket, kneeled, and presented it to Warren where he lay on the ground. Silence – stunned and rare – from all else in the room. Exasperation on the face of the Conditions Boss.
As his mind returned, the voices began to take form: —That’s a cardioversion. By God. Check his pupils. Warren moaned with intent, testing his vocal cords, and then said, —Teresa, I love you, and you, you bastard, give it back. The latter was directed to the wavy-haired cop.
no art supply budget
:Becca Radost Onken: pastels on manila folders
NATASHA BENNETTS is from the Flathead Valley in Montana. She like hikes and bikes and her puppy. You can catch more of her work at flickr.com/photos/natashabennetts.
JAMES CONKLING is a web developer and cartographer. Occasionally, he also takes a stab at living in the real world. Find more of his work at http://jameslaneconkling.github.io/. CHRISTOPHER RONAN CONWAY is a student, writer, photographer, player of the accordion, currently based out of Minneapolis. Lover of old city blocks and the layered years of stories on them. CAITLYN EDWARDS originally hails from Silver Spring Maryland but relocated to Brooklyn, New York in May 2015. When she isn’t taking photos, she’s making friends with every dog she meets, slinging back beer shot combos, and thinking about what’s for dinner. The remainder of her portfolio can be seen at caitlynedwards.photoshelter.com. You can also follow her on Instagram @caitlyngreatlyn ALEX HANIFORD is a fine art photographer currently living in the small town of Troutman, NC. Since moving to NC two years ago she has clocked a lot of time riding around in cars. Her favorite things to do outside of photography include bike rides, thrifting for old records, up-cycling cool finds, drinking espresso while chatting with friends, and listening to local bands at the town venue, the Bathtub Gin of Mooresville, NC. You can find more of her work at alexhaniford. com.
JOANI MAHER works on her creative confidence by making meditation drawings and watercolors. More of her projects can be seen at hayrita.com - including play with textiles, and 2 zines that will be out at the end of 2016. She is currently working on her masters of integrative health and hoping to link her love of calm living, chill pets, and gabbing with smart women into one blissful existence. BECCA RADOST ONKEN is a former wanderer who has recently found place to call home. Living and adventuring in and around Madison, WI she enjoys exploring the great outdoors with her life partner and two dogs. MARTIN PHILLIP is a DC-based author and aspiring lunatic. Over the past three years, he has traveled over 30,000 miles by motorcycle, crossing the country 4 times via the back roads and small towns of 43 states. He is currently working on his first novel, a psyched-out sci-fi adventure based on his travels. EMILY RAMPONE describes policy and politics by day and welcomes this opportunity to use her own voice at night. She hopes the reader will find this piece more compelling than technical accounts of federal rule-making procedure. She lives in DC with her two cats and husband. BENJAMIN WALKER currently writes and works as a civil servant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University in 2012. His poetry has previously appeared in PANK, SOFTBLOW, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Prick of the Spindle, and OccuPoetry, among other publications.
MICHAEL HECHME is a soap maker, gardener, and owner of many leather-bound books in NYC. He enjoys watching beautiful sunsets and twirls his hair with his left hand when he ponders life’s many secrets.
KATIE WEST is a photographer and digital media specialist living and working in New York City doing various jobs and projects. Her inspirations do not come from one medium, yet from the desire and need to express.
JORDAN JENKINS has a Master’s in English and a dog. He is working on a novel. Please purchase it when/if published.
MATTIE WONG is a gardener based in NYC (for now!), and has always been interested in a million and one things. She is the founder and editor of DAY PLANNER.
write it in your day planner and do it everyday; write it in your day planner, before you fade away