It wasn’t until I’d been out in the desert for some months that my feelings started to sharpen and clarify. They were feelings around water. One day it was completely obvious to me that I’d been swimming in a very deep something, that coming to the Mojave meant the hard pack had shoved up underneath me suddenly. Once I realized it, the shock worked its way up my ankles, into my knees. Even my ligaments registered the unrelenting stiffness, the deep extension of granitic bedrock, ligaments that had recently been described by my local chiropractor, a 5 foot 3 ball of muscle with a waxed mustache and “your name” tattooed across his forearm, as: type A.

“They’re short,” he said. I brushed it off. I wanted to get back to the story he was telling, about working for the San Diego Chargers football team in the 80’s. He’d gotten the job because his mistress, whom he served contractually and willingly as slave, had a client who was head of physical therapy. “He was more perverted than the perverts,” my chiropractor said. “Blood play was just the start, you name it.” No shock, he’d died of AIDS.

We were in a catastrophic drought but still water came out of the faucet, the hose. I watched it with fascination. It was water, but shared none of the properties of water that I knew. For instance, I put a shirt on the line. It was juiceless a few minutes later. I tried to turn on the irrigation system and in doing so, lost control of the cheap plastic handle, drenching my jeans. Same effect. When washing dishes I purposely slopped big armfuls of water on the floor. Gone in what seemed like seconds. If an ice cube dropped onto the cement, I didn’t pick it up—no need.

Because water was no longer familiar, I rarely hydrated as I should. One night I drove 10 miles in the opposite direction of town, purposefully taking roads that I didn’t know, that had no markers, that contained sand traps and wicked gulleys. As I sped along the orange preternaturally glowing sands, I had the magic feeling you sometimes get while driving—that you’re encased in an over-amplified but completely contained world, that no one can see you or get to you, that you have a special deal going and you’re one of the ones who controls things instead of the other way around.

Of course I didn’t want to control things. I hated stuff like that. More it’s a sense of having somehow slipped behind the scenes into an elemental, universal command center—where gravity does what you want, you’re flying, the radio is moving through your cells, your body’s bending and popping to the music better than you thought possible, your tires are sometimes all the way off the dirt because your spirit went down under the rubber and pulled them up, the stars, shaking brighter, are a part of you and you know that because you feel the shy sizzle of each and every one.

At least these were some of the things I was thinking in February of this year. A year when I pulled the death card which everyone knows means: change. The 10 miles got me to a collection of neon signs. A bar with the ubiquitous cement floors of the desert, the ubiquitous dust, CCR on the karaoke, the wobbly couches, an out of town band. THIRSTY. All the lights were on. They had beer.

My chiropractor was a Capricorn. No surprise there either. Earth sign. Guiding principle: discipline. I say chiropractor but he wasn’t that. He found pain in my body and slammed into it. Thumbs, elbows, fists, once a knee. “When I quit being a slave, I started a slave training school, became a master,” he said. “Capricorn!” I yelled. The pain bud he was drilling into released. Later that night, my head blazingly under-watered, the band sulking and wailing, it occurred to me that people who carry difference in their bodies value astrology because it establishes a lineage that is non-biological, not genetic. The self is material, corporeal, it exists. But its facts are imprinted astrally, a cosmic stamp, all at once.

DEEP DESERT
by Jess Arndt

Desert house number two. 121 sunfair road. This one is farther out than the first. It abuts US military land completely. A skinny calf-high barbed wire fence marking the line. It’s a small adobe house built by a fag “Omar” and his brother. Also a pig pen, a goat shed, a chicken house, and old 70’s bus with “ODD JOB” lettered across the front. The bus is filled with tools and porn vhs tapes. My friends come over. We drink beer and start prowling the bus with flashlights. It’s cold. One friend, the Peruvian, is wearing a Russian fur hat and trench. “Take everything,” I say. Leather harnesses, wrist cuffs, wall phone cords (the curly plug-in kind), rusty hammerhead hammers, saws, kneepads, porn mags in German, animal milk collection jars, t-shirts that say: “gay punx,” honey. Omar is gone. “He’s not dead!” My friend shouts across some piled up salvage. “He’s just in Berlin!” But it doesn’t matter the true truth, we can’t stop talking about him like he is.

Meanwhile a friend croaks from cancer and I didn’t call him. Outside at night alone with tequila and so much sky, I am aware of him passing not away but by. Dale “didn’t give a boho fuck,” was “an enthusiast”—the elegies are good. It’s true, he didn’t give a fuck! Was an enthusiast—it seems like possibly the hardest thing to be.

Crowley’s still hanging around in my mind. Occultist, necromancer, occasional dick sucker, mountaineer, founder of the religion Thelema. I’m using the cards, trying to find my way. He named one of his daughters Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley. But was he actually bad? I need to know. A few weeks ago in Highland Park, LA we were across from a house where he used to party, do séances, etc. Big porch, heavy shutters. We all agreed—it felt “dark.” Now I’m taking a survey, I keep asking: “was he? was he?” “Crowley was a social climber!” my Peruvian friend says—the opposite of an enthusiast aka the opposite of vulnerable. The stars feel very far away.

***

Outside there’s a white trailer propped up on tall black tires. It’s the last building I investigate when doing my rounds, checking the property. It feels like it’s been dragged here, left in its orientation for no particular reason. “Heather’s” studio. I can’t see it, then I can. I approach when the sun’s setting. Time? now closer to, but not quite 5 o’clock. It looks like there’s been a fire or a dark wave plus bacchanalian rager or a transformational ceremony involving long candles, wigs, witchy things. Outside the door: rusty bed springs but with a pillow carefully laid over the top, empty unidentifiable bottles, god’s eyes in sun-split cardboard boxes, books shredded by someone, something, a ruthless wind.

It’s getting bad over here. I’m comfortable and full of doubt. I know my way around the towns, the minimarts. Could chat functionally to multiple groups or individuals, even know some of their names, their “ways.” The woman, for instance, who bursts into the health food store to let everyone know a dog’s loose on the highway. She’s the same one who, at the local café, laughs too loudly when spreading the news about the 29 Palms school kids run over (killed) by an out of control driver. I move a stool down. Her mouth’s perpetually open. “I won’t bite,” she says.

The trailer feels different from everything else. Twilight’s short, gets snuffed out. The doorknob has a rope wound round around it to keep the metal door from banging. I unwind it, look in. It doesn’t feel good. Something’s unsettled. There are ripped up garbage bags all over the floor. I look farther in—a desk under a small horizontal window. A half-full bottle of Rossi sweet vermouth on it, capped. The desk’s wooden chair is bound by a heavy leather strap plus buckle, like a wide seatbelt. My chair in the house also has a rope looped onto it—it’s frayed nylon, yellow. Makes me think of that writing cliché everyone knows: when desperate tie yourself to it. But out here, after days of digging through fetish objects, flags with strange symbols, broken things etc., the belts take on other dimensions.

What’s the word for when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing but you just keep doing it and doing it? I can’t settle in out here although it’s easy to inhabit. Daily tasks mound up but are pointless. Things like: should I go to the dump (the guys are “nice,” you get to drive up a trash mountain), or not?

On the weekend some Swedish friends show up. We hike and cook, they take lots of photos, it’s pouring snow in Stockholm. They keep asking me how I‘m doing. The question seems casual but they ask it a few times. “Do you ever get Lappsjuka?” “Huh?” They describe it: “a mind disease from spending too much time in Lappland.” The word, “Lappland” is out of use now—offensive, they tell me (but lappsjuka persists). It’s not Lapps but the Sami or Saami people who live up in the very far north. I do a google search—find reindeer sleds, real ones with leather and sinew and bone, that kind of land, my chest aches, what about the red-furred priests?

“Ok fine, Mojavejuka,” I confirm.

It’s raining when they leave and fog coats the creosote bushes. Up close, their shock white branches crossed with tiny black horizontal lines look like something from “Beetlejuice.” My fire takes a frustratingly long time to build. I keep blowing and choking. A stifled feeling, I can’t see the horizon—mysterious how the desert closes in.

***

Last year I wrote a story from a similar condition. About a fermented Mexican mash called pulque. A six-year relationship was simultaneously nodding out and exploding into abridged but terrible bouts of fighting on frigorific Brooklyn streets. I was erasing myself nightly in the most composed way I knew how.

“When we drink, we take something in to leave something behind,” I wrote. “I think.”

How the passage isn’t free. How the same Thoth card I had been examining then appears now, a year later: The Moon. I’m in Washington State, as far north and west as you can get and still somehow be in it, on an island that’s so reclusive that unless you know someone you’ll never get here. An island that is right now as wet as the Mojave is dusty. Black-green trees guarding the beach as we pull cooler after cooler of supplies from the boat, lichen-coated everything making the bark and stumps and plastic tarps that cover the machinery ghostly white, froth on all sides of every wave. One day a nor’easter the next a nor’wester, then wind from the south, it keeps scouring for something, moving around.

The card is described by the Thoth bible, Mirror of the Soul as: “you’re passing through sinister sentries whose heads are those of wolves” but then is, in the same breath, small surprise, a vagina…“changeable, moist, shadowy, seductive, possessing an eerie attraction. Everything appears mysterious, doubtful and bewitching.” My girlfriend and I go out walking. Big mermaid-y hunks of bull kelp, gulls screaming at us, a clump of shiny-eyed seals who stare and stare. A rock emerges on the tide-savaged sand, somehow it’s both oval and triangle-shaped. The granite composition makes black pubelike speckles but running through its center the material is fleshy pink—an obscene thick slit. We’re on a sandy finger protruding seaward, in front of us a mess of waves, then Canada, that’s all.

Christmas morning two lambs push out. I carry one of them out from beneath a mammoth storm-broken cedar. She’s all legs, she weighs nothing! I hold her by the belly and realize the wetness is from her umbilical cord—frayed and hot in my palm. I’m used to appendages like these. Floppy, half-alive Frankensteins. “I take it back,” my girlfriend says. “I DO wish you had a dick.” She says it on a dark slippery path, there’s literally a burial plot just ahead. It’s romantic to me, she’s talking about coming inside her, I know what she means.

***

The next day at breakfast my dad beckons me outside with his squat forefinger, his double-wide palm. I get up from the family table. I know where we’re going, I don’t want to. We walk up the hill, past the machine shed and barn on our right, the cosseted orange and black Kubota tractors sitting in the temporary sheep pasture on our left. He’s whistling, he doesn’t mind our task. The mud is thick, I can’t commit, I won’t get all the way dressed, a small resistance—my socks already soaked take that—I’m in someone’s mismatched crocs.

We stand at the pen. He’s been up here already today, divided them—the older sheep in one area and then the eight yearling lambs. We have to pick two to be sold and butchered to our friend S. Some of them are twins. I’ve mostly conquered my lifelong fear of pair-splitting but now my mind is racing to invent empathetic math. The pen’s tight, the animals are shaking. “Which is the smallest?” My dad asks. I point. “Which now?” I point again. I’m holding the gate, he’s wrestling them out.

You’re not god, I say to myself over and over. But it feels like I am.

My dad’s swearing, giving me familiar orders “you HAVE TO SLAM IT closed!” they’re running at him. I’m suddenly worried about his body. Didn’t he wreck his shoulder? And what about his trigger finger? The slipped disc in his lower back? His work-mangled hands?

“Type A, Type A,” my brother and I sometimes chant for relief, confer about how his heart must be cranking. “But when I’m resting my pulse is at 42!” he offers proudly if you ask.

It’s done, I walk away. He’s happy, he loves completion. I don’t want to show him my face. The two I’ve picked are alone, calming down. I can tell they think they dodged something, they’re safe. It feels real, the gruesomeness of the choice but simultaneously I’m wondering: is this just a bizarre-o gender performance? Is it really possible that you—at 36—don’t want your dad to know you’re upset, see you doing something like crying?

But I was just eating a handful of bacon!

(Is THAT a gender performance too?)

The full moon is in cancer, or almost. A cranky highly sensitive moon—you might take it all very personally. Something about entrenched family dynamics. Walking back down the road, firs drooling their black frondescence over me, I’m apart from nature, have done bad things, more muck in my crocs, it’s pouring. When I re-enter the kitchen my mom, a vegetarian, tries to make me feel better, says: “They’re all going to get killed anyway so it wasn’t really a choice!”

A memory jerk: backyard garden party in Brooklyn, somehow drinking a past girlfriend’s urine from a plastic cup, our second date. “That’s nothing,” she said as I swallowed. “My EX-girlfriend let me cut her with razor blades on our FIRST date.”

Did I survive puberty? Like really survive it? How about the second still-evolving gender one? It’s not hyperbolic, answer’s: no. Not the same me.

How many places can we be at once? I take my own truck and start driving across the island on the wrong side of the road. The truck’s Japanese, it’s built that way. My cousin’s leaving, we’re rushing to catch the only boat off. The road winds, it’s not pavement—just a rug of dirt and mashed fir needles, seems redundant to say it: more mud. It’s 2 pm but up here, twisted up in the trees it’s already dark. Around another bend, I’m gunning the engine, my feet slipping on the clutch—gotta get there—a nameless panic filling my mouth, anxiety inherited from next door, from my father’s shockingly lymphatic pulse—gotta! Get! There! But there’s another vehicle chugging up ahead blocking me, a 4-wheeler pulling a little Rasta painted cart behind it, oh no, I’d know this cart anywhere, on the rear end there’s the boxer dog drawn over the top of the flag—he’s smoking a thigh-sized joint.

I’d honk if I could but the horn’s broken. Pull over CMON, of course, it’s S. and the lambs! I’m stuck behind them staring at their little bouncing white heads. What am I supposed to learn now? I’m driving like some sweaty sink-less Lady Macbeth. Can’t wash the blood off. But S.? he’s the happiest guy ever, plus handsome—muscles like ropes, he’s from Burkina Faso, he speaks French, if I had to die I’d want him to kill me, I’d fall headless smiling, he’s got such a convincingly melodic voice.

We dance at a New Year’s party in the island’s only community building, the still-functioning post office—an 1890’s log cabin with an oil drum stove. Party’s theme? “Address Unknown.” It’s half the island, there’re forty of us packed in here, all ages but really all ages, 3 to 80-something in wool everything and wet boots, materializing at every door like apparitions from the 70’s in our best party attire, fug of weed, fire, sweat, island garlic. My brother’s djing, some kind of murky brown punch gathers its pistons and injects our brains again and again, now it’s S.’s favorite song: c’est la dance du chiens the dance of the dogs “YAAAAAAAAA WOAH!” I shout so he shouts, we’re both on repeat going nuts spraying our fingers up in the air, wind outside or is it OUR HEADS moaning but I’m dancing with S., I love it, I figured it out: just don’t mention the lambs! Somewhere down the dirt road below us, the sturdy dock and CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS LIFE???? the sluggily phosphorescent sea. I wake up what must be a few days later to my dad out slaughtering the rest—Jan. 1, 2015—year of the sheep.

***

I go into the pantry, there’s a large metal bowl of organs soaking on the chest freezer.

A neighbor comes by. “I saw your lambs up there bleeding out from a tree!”

In the kitchen, my dad’s stooping over a pan, frying hearts. “Want some?” He’s misty and relaxed, his butchering knife dangling from his belt in its orange rubber sheath. I get a plate and allow him to shovel me a few crispy rounds. I chew slowly—trying to taste them all the way, greasy and rubbery but also tender and gamey and sweet—but still swallow them so fast they burn my throat.

When we finally boat off the island they’re trussed in net sacks, headless, hide-less, so firm and compact. I touch their cold chests as I load them on. Thanking them or apologizing or just muttering, I’m not sure. No surprise “The Silence of the Lambs” was my gay root movie—I’d watch it again and again so I could pine over Jodi Foster and her pain.

Back on the mainland we drive to a diner for breakfast before I fly south. Bacon again. The lambs lie out in the bed of the truck.

***

Now I’ve been alone for a string of days, a week. “Heather’s really sex-oriented,” my desert friends say. We’re at their house drinking red wine and listening to a tape deck. I’m hyper from my silence, asking this and that, telling about a hulking silicone dick lying just past the burnt foundation (and tipped over stucco outhouse?) that may or may not have belonged to an exploded meth lab. The dick’s on the ground, sand-hued, camouflaged—just “there.” More about Heather: “she won’t acknowledge you unless you touch her.” When I first walked around the trailer I felt conscious of including something in my perimeter, in my smell trail—aware that until I encircled it, the trailer was other, apart. Should I unwind it, dis-include it from my path?

I’m afraid of my tendency to tame, my desire to put in place, resolve.

Still reading Hist. The book is small: “Libitina said the priests would go nuts. One of them poked his fingers through the holes in the grating and pinched frenetically at the tips of her nipples. Jacinta would get wetter and wetter and weak in the knees. Later the sacristy…

…Praised be the quietude of mine in this instant.”

It’s late, time to go. I get in my car, there’s a night vigil where Utah Trail meets highway 62 for the kids who died. A big cross with paper garlands on it. Candles in clumps all over the ground. Police guarding. I drive under the flat night sky. Turning onto Winters, now the road’s sand, pale-dark. I’m remembering I forgot to leave any lights on ie, made no contract with the house. Larger meaning: the desert owns it. It’s cold and empty but something more than that—is sealed off, could be hostile or at very least unknown. Ideas scrabble by like nocturnal things. What if I pull into the dirt driveway and a light IS on? What if someone’s sitting at the (non-existent) kitchen table when I walk in the door? What if: “Omar’s hooome!” ?

A neighbor’s guard dog runs the length of, lunging at, his cagelike fence. Not dead means no spiritual visitation. Plus, Omar was a friend of friends. Omar is home would mean celebratory drinking? And bitching about? At very least some healthy weed in front of the woodstove. But what about privacy—mine? His? Yesterday I saw a raven perched heavily on a post, then immediately a single coyote. He sensed me watching. Stood very still in the creosote bushes. Something felt awful. I thought: “some days it’s terrible being seen.”

***

The sky is lilac again, that color doesn’t go away. Over the park mountains, a long low cloud the shape of a pteradactyl or flattened goose. Then the new moon in Aquarius up over the low roof of the house. The birds are nesting. All week I’ve been trying to lure them from the neighbors’ with seeds. A few brown ones come but the doves stay aloof. I’m not trusted yet or they’re living easy off the ex-military dude to my left. His trees are bigger.

Last night I continued my desert program: watch docs. “The Last Days of Vietnam.” As they fled Saigon, one South Vietnamese pilot saved his family by flying a Chinook helicopter straight out over the sea. He had no gas, there was nothing. Then a speck. An aircraft carrier full of refugees. The Chinook was too big to land, would have crushed the runway. So he and his wife hovered over the hardeck and dropped their kids out the window one by one.

There’s also a helicopter called the Mojave. Tonight in all this silence I see black shadows cross the hills to the north. A small city in the glints of white as the sun sets. The city looks like rock, is unnamed on maps, is full of “insurgents”—hired to play a strange version of themselves from either Iraq or Afghanistan or newly, my chiropractor says (who besides being ex-BDSM is also ex-base) North Korea.

“Isn’t it weird that I can point to it?” I say. “That it’s right there in plain sight?” But he says no, they don’t care, over that distant ridge the city’s massive, it spreads and spreads.

***

I wake up in the night five times. It’s hot, it’s cold, something’s sharp, could be a spider. But more like, the very small fang of a spider?? Yesterday morning, from the bed, I watched a beautiful gray and brown arachnid with long delicate legs drift on the wall. I let it be, “life.” Then I saw another one, its mate? What if: the start of egg sacs galore? Still awake, I wander through the house in the dark. Something’s provoking me, keeping me up. Omar’s unhappy, must be. The kitchen’s being torn apart and reconstructed. Plastic sheeting coating the counters and sink, Home Depot tiles going in. When Omar lived here the walls were painted such a late-night blue that they looked black. I walk from room to room, weak fire glow, cement floors, almost no furniture. It’s like I’m a caretaker, protecting something but what?

Omar, you left, I say. You planted pomegranates. You planted eucalyptus and tea trees. You had some crazy orgies. You read a lot of Dutch books (good ones, Genet even!) and probably fucked dudes in jock straps, left them in the goat pen or the chicken coop, and then later when your friends visited listened in on them fucking too. You had a bunch of cats, you made gluten-free muffins and bread, you like enamelware, you like it a lot. But what am I supposed to do? you ditched!

You ditched!

In the morning it’s raining, bombs in cycles every couple of minutes. A soft pow pow pow. I have a skype meeting I have to get to. From the house everything’s too slow, the pixels giant. I drive furiously up and down the wet sand looking for cell reception. On the fence posts and yucca plants—ravens with wet helmet heads, their bodies as big as Chihuahuas. I pull to the side of a sandy bank. It’s ok, kind of good. Then a series of pickup trucks and big 1980’s era cars pull by—oldsmobiles with shot suspension, that kind of thing.

“Are you ok? …sweetie?” The ancient ones say. I’m jammed up against the steering wheel, the car’s on for purposes of charging my mostly shattered iphone, my laptop is balanced between the steering wheel and my knees, my baseball hat is nose-height.

“Fine!” I say.

A dude my age in a pickup seems bewildered by me or my behavior. The feeling is: are you a guy? So can’t you change it yourself? But if you are a guy?? there must be a real problem with your car for you to just be sitting there? “Reception!” I say, pointing. But he wants to do something—like maybe he’ll change my tire anyway then just shakes his head. “Cool.” Suddenly I have neighbors.

Meanwhile I’m trying to get to LA for something. Everything seems to take an inordinate amount of time. Rain’s soaking my woodpile, my precious mesquite and avocado and pine logs, I’m embarrassed. Up on the island you NEVER leave your wood uncovered, it’s the first sign of an amateur or idiot. But it’s pouring here and that seems joyous and the creosote bushes are flowering the air with their sticky mystical juice. At first they smelled like chemicals to me, bomb dust. Now I snap their sticklike branches and tie them under my showerhead to get the heavy scent.

Still raining! Won’t quit! I’m tearing black contractors bags open and taping them over my wood with gorilla tape. Pow pow pow. More soft probes, dumps of bomb sound. “Pour your pelvis open like a pitcher of milk” my yoga teacher says. But my pelvis (if I have one) is spilling spouts of caffeine and anxiety and I’m sweating on my city shirt. An outcome I knew I couldn’t escape when, after laying out my “clothes to go hear Judith Butler,” I first shoved the shirt over my head.

***

Out here I’m possibly military, that’s what everyone thinks. Close fade, blurry anchor tattoo... I walk like… I talk like… . It’s confusing, that my signifiers have another more pressing meaning, that for once I’m not the first thing (dyke, freak) that everyone thinks I am. Then I hear about a military helicopter going down on the base—two marines dead. No one seems to know much. I feel more than I expect to feel. Or maybe it’s not more, it’s differently. I find myself talking about it at the bar. In line for the ____. Overheard at _______. My head does not know how to do the math of no-consequence bomb runs suddenly having mortal consequence. Except for the gory truth—of course they always do.

“The worst thing you can do is get used to them,” my Peruvian friend said back in November, handing me the keys to their/my house.

Last weekend my girlfriend and I watched “Let the Right One In”—the vampire movie, the Swedish version. I needed her to see it. I’m obsessed with her brain, the scope of her sensibilities. Film clicks on, it’s snowy and blue out, state-run housing, apartment blocks all the same, they’re pre-teens—a boy who’s being bullied and a lonely vampire of the same age who’s always barefoot on the playground bars but can do rubik’s cubes, who knows something really complicated about difference, about how love isn’t enough. “Would you still like me if I’m not a girl?” she says to him. He both does and doesn’t know what she means.

“Yes.”

It’s dark in the room in front of the laptop, the fire’s throbbing. I needed her to see it but the way my throat’s closing it’s hard to talk. “I had this dream,” I say, “that I knew what it felt like, I mean in my body all the way what it felt like…to be that other, to need… .”

Something’s gaping, always gaping.

***

How at jungly but well-manicured CalArts in Valencia, Judith Butler’s talk is about “We the people…” . She’s standing in her characteristic suit jacket, jousting with her hands. It’s about repressive power held by the state apparatus, about popular sovereignty vs. parliamentary sovereignty and the strange space in-between, about what happens when we assemble in public spaces, use our vote, use our bodies, about who the “we” is.

So who is we?

I walk along the barbed wire that marks off the US Marine Corps land. I’m passing shanties and rattlesnake holes, jackrabbit holes, everything is scarlet. With each step forward, the sky’s doing something to my innards. There’s a discarded plastic jug, there’s a land parcel with money—big ground-breaking machines and a wood wrapped hot tub. I tink my beer bottle along the boundary fence. Wonder who’s tracking these vibrations.

But it’s so pantingly beautiful in this desert! I’m talking about full moon sovereignty, this time in Leo! And I’m a Leo! And this is the land of the sun! To get here you turn on Sunburst. Then plow past Sunny Sands, Shifting Sands, Sonora, Del Oro, Golden, Sunever, Sunkist, Sunshine, Sunview and finally my dirt pack Sunfair! But then there’s also Pole, Polaris, Celesta, La Crescenta, Moonlight Mesa, Neptune, Saturn, Starlight, Venus, Mars, Orion and my favorite, the enigmatic: Giant Rock! It’s such a good advertisement. Every time I cross the track I look left and then right, which way IS the giant rock? No hint even when I take the bait and drive in both directions…it’s just scrub and sand for a gazillion miles.

But the moon IS king. It goes from dewy luminosity as it rises through the pink February clouds to hard and cold and huge. I’m running around on fire with everything. For days, (weeks, months) I’ve been beating myself up to a self-conscious pulp but suddenly I don’t give a shit! I burn palo santo, white sage, chunky sticks of resin from Peru, pinon sap I collected in the park, firewood, whatever I can find. I’m drinking beer and herbal junk, I feel bigger than myself and more diffuse, I’m a huge cloud, I’m here! Can anyone see this but me?? The moon on the tin roof of the goat shed, the moon on the sand, the moon on the old horse ring, the moon on Heather’s white trailer, the moon on those broken bowling balls out in the yard—aren’t they gorgeous? And how do you break one anyway? The moon on the rocks and the yucca fronds, it’s covering that mountain, it’s covering THAT hill!

I lie down flat-backed in the sand barely thinking about spiders and scorpions, the moon is 2-D or I am, it’s just a circle from a 3-hole punch, it’s blaring down at me, should I take testosterone just to see, am I a vampire, is it possible to pulse with possibility, can I finish a book, any book, am I moving here, like right here? giving up Brooklyn, all of it? my narrow railroad apartment, my self-tiled bathroom, for love? and what about later this morning at 5am when I’m standing outside in my boxers and I hear the tongue and footpads of one of the neighbor’s slavering dogs rocketing towards me in the still-dark and the same moon is sinking over the western rise? Can I soak any more in? Can I?

 

Jess Arndt received an MFA at Bard College and was a 2013 Graywolf SLS Fellow and 2010 Fiction Fellow at the New York Foundation of the Arts. Arndt’s writing has recently appeared in THEM journal, The LA Review of Books, Lithub, Hazzlitt, Fence, BOMB, and Night Papers, among others. Their debut story collection, Large Animals, came out on Catapult Press in May, 2017. Arndt is a co-founder of New Herring Press and she/they currently teach at CalArts, in Los Angeles.

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