And in the cold desert men invented
– Franz Wright
Days end like that. Over there in California. In desert years what happens more than not much. A romance that was doomed to be. Rules broken with the sense that they never were your rules to follow. Involved, a married woman and a child who because of what you did or helped accomplice-accomplish, would define life as hopelessly complex. All events turn out for the worse. A new hat to be worn. A student/teacher thing. Somedays, days. Having a big fat secret that all of society is itching to know.
An exchange of letters. Of ideas at first, of wanting to know more. Each time we met it was a photo op. There would be certain spots of assignation. A tall building with a room, open air, with steel bars painted brown holding the beyond in. Plastic student chairs collecting like dust. Maps rolled up leaning in corners, providing no one but themselves with directions.
Another place was the desert park with its one big pagoda of shade. It was all so desolate, so hot, so prickly. About her was this smell of someone so foreign that it was almost recognizable and known in another life or it was the scent of how a real person smelled, alive and unafraid, not layered in washes of feminine perfume products cheaply bought. It was the smell of danger.
In the beginning we contained our lust in words, in notes, over the phone, in walks on the splendidly strange campus that featured more trees than it should, accidental pools of shade under which nothing could be seen, fountains made to be sat near and splashed in although we were the only ones indulging in them. Buildings with no doors that had spaces, giant breezeways, of enclosed courtyards often with its own hidden fountain and palm trees inserted and somehow growing in a sun limited by giant screens of rubbery mesh. In these buildings we would lose ourselves for minutes of time that would last for days. Lost among the naturally occurring shadows and gusts of cooled-down air.
We’d come up with plans of what our possibilities could possibly be, might lead to, of the trouble we could avoid, of trips we’d take with one another though we were on one already and it was leading to that great big inevitability called sex that would soon muddle our romance which had, from up until now, found a house of mirrors to play in.
During those years, how many road trips taken? Count unknown. As the destinations. To Monument Valley to see what the movies showed us as cowboy land only this view marijuana enhanced. To here from there with cameras in hand and the name of the docudrama: in search of interludes. We were visionaries pursuing the only dream we thought we were capable of having (love?) true West style and so we roamed.
She lost so much weight that she looked like an adolescent boy, skinny-necked, hole in the knee of her jeans. She got to start a new life, where she’d left off being young again and believing in the fantasy of who she wasn’t. I was her guide, having never done it before, but first she would have to empty the various and sundry photos of high school sweethearts of mine and romances that staled at second base. I had kept the remembrances because it was the thing to do, to enumerate my last duchesses in this compact and portable way memento moris of my desire. Wallets can be troublesome.
She made me throw them away. Funny how sentimental are the flowers of regret. Doesn’t make sense but it does. If I could see that face now I could better read my own. What did I see in them, a turn of the lip, in the architecture of a nose, how hair was held back with oddly-placed barrettes, in those aspects would be revealed a portrait of perhaps that man I might be.
She, though, sat for me, my first artist’s model. Portraits in black and white. In a park fake with tepid ponds and ducks. All the trees in the realm of our senses planted there by desirous godlings. Then, some partial nudes before anything was quite happening. Where all art leads to. They were developed at the grocery store photo processor, how daring and stupid lust can be. How we both forgot that she was still married. It slipped our minds when we were together. How intellectual romance conquers all. How to disregard that which should not be considered and how easy it is. How union can begin in dishonesty. How to make sense of even a little of it.
How many solitary ponds swollen with black water and decorated with one bald cypress and the signature of a white egret must we pass on the highway, in silence, seeing it, acknowledging its existence in mind only, to realize that it is our lives, lonely as it is. A symbol as vague as waves.
On a long distance trip: the rose tattoo of menstrual blood as we pass oil wells drilling into green ground quite possibly to find oil and more oil. The essential oils. How it feels, this worldly curse and how having a period during a certain period affects both man and woman, a feeling shared, an aggression of communication that results in one of the two always having to be right. The last word and commentary on it.
It’s when we realize we travel because we are these deltas crossed, these intersected hills, each inconsequential herd of cattle in pure child-rearing bliss camped in the shade of a field’s few trees (a field with not any name) waiting for what is most important so it should never be thought of: the aren’t time. How everything gloriously goes away.
Sometimes what it takes is a sudden mountain hail storm to make you realize that indeed you are alive and that at any time, when least expected, you’ll be wet to the core, cold and drenched. Driving, driving, driving for hours that durate as long as it takes to finally find an interesting station on AM, and how we wish radios still had dials, until after another stretch of nothingness as exhibited by plans that bleed into an unlikely horizon, peppered in farms that some outcasts of society, perhaps criminals, perhaps murderers, must live in by force because no one so cruel would make any other type of creature choose such a solitary fate. What do people who live on farms do when they’re not farming?
What’s in store for us isn’t what we can get in a store, it’s what we drive ourselves to. A quality of being driven. To where the land arranges itself into staircases that don’t even try to go anywhere but vaguely up. Where just like in commercials for nature there are two hawks ever present and circling on thermals. Where the ground has secretly risen your vehicle to the level of altiplano and there’s no way that beyond the next mesa, the next crumbling mountain, there ever possibly could be water, a green body of choppiness broken only by an occasional jet stream of a speed boat, no islands ever. That’s where you’d like to stay in an adobe picnic shelter with open ends while your dog chases rabbits until his paws are full of pricklies and he’s discovered the hard way what the function of cactus is and you and her have returned some twelve-odd years later, twelve years that feel maybe like three, to the place of the birth of your lust you thought only, the place called the desert where nothing really flourishes except the important idea of tough plants. Weeds, sage brush, rabbit grass, and the scrub of your existence that the world still won’t acknowledge as being a truism of any definable kind.
There will be cities visited in which in a bat of an eye you or she will see a man but most likely a woman in the midst of doing nothing in particular, just being herself with a red tank top and those thin, rubber-soled cheerleader tennis shoes on and you will wonder what made her put her hair in a pony tail this morning and if you could in some way meet her, become her lover(s) and start entirely new lives in this beautiful town built mostly for tourists and peopled by a dark-haired race of friendly folk who on the day you drove down the mountain and crossed their town they were mourning the death of a six-year-old girl who you’ve never known nor have any clue how she left this realm. At the hard pan cemetery how they wore their nicest shoes that showed the women’s painted toes and then the painted crosses of almost neon colors, whitewashed crosses too decorated with multi-colored flowers so real that they resembled candy or floral sunsets that she would never quite have the chance to understand but did, in her short, better-than-not-living-at-all life, maybe see.
If it’s not about getting lost among mountains and eating foods of differing flavors and wandering in complete abandonment of what you thought you’d turn out to be, then consult the magpies. Huge black and white crows in tuxedos who scavenge blatantly, calling out each others’ name in insult or jealousy (for what the other had found but won’t share) and wafting over the heads of lookers on: are these not the symbols of who we might be and the
true use of formal wear out in the way out West?
Up North, down South, back East. How we phrase such geographical indistinctions that mean more than what they say. Up North: a stranger who comes from a place where things are done differently and probably more efficiently. Back East: the old coast were anything goes as long as there are the funds for it and some left over. Slightly old-fashioned in a boring sense. Down South: down and dirty where whatever is said and done is for the sake that ain’t nothing going to change it. It is only in going West that the spirit is outed, where really anything goes because anything has the chance and all that delicious space, a geographical illusion that leads itself to anyone’s, regardless of background, interpretation.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That there wasn’t much to tell. Like the time you were riding a rickety old ten-speed and the woman who hit you, who nailed you, under the yellow false sun of a streetlight, the glare and dirt smell of drizzled on streets, rows of ranch houses no one would ever willingly die in, a person met in accident who pretended to care. A drive home was all she offered and her phone number and a host of sincere apologies produced by general fear.
Not much to tell about notes, even notes written to a teacher of poetry, notes received well in their muted attempt at soul communication or its semblance transmitted by a less than twenty-year-old realization that it’s all about words. Her inevitable rejection that was more of a “Git! Git!” made all the more potent when her famous writer of a husband grilled you in his office about the thoughts you thought your heat had thought. His jealousy at his infatuation should have been the sign that read: watch-out-life-is-like-this-people-are-smaller-than-self portrayals.
But you couldn’t read much in those days other than the great poets that you discovered in the underground bunker of the library. The same library in which you escorted blind, and the in some way handicapped, students while you soaked up the approving looks of young female students (non-handicapped). Their eyes seemed to say “oh what a sweet young man.” Such a sweet young man bubbling with so much testosterone that he wouldn’t think twice about undressing with his eyes these often very pretty helpless women (the handicapped ones, and not) who couldn’t see what his ulterior motives were nor could they sense what he was looking at but who doesn’t like to try on the feel of someone else’s close attention, the way sight can mold on fill the recesses of a body, then lift off with no harm done. An exceedingly young Mr. Palomar without such lofty cares. The boy next door who sent so many of those bright Arizona days conjuring up sexual fantasies of the ilk that got him stranded for an evening with a very young lady who was the resident student star in one of his English classes (oh the fame!). A girl who listened to heavy metal while she avidly read The Book, a girl who had thin streaks of facial hair on her mechanically brushed cheeks, a girl who was so clunky, for lack of a better word, that when you both tried to have somehow not sex, but a nocturnal union, (to this day ill-defined), it ended in a big question mark and an awkward ride home, motorcycle back.
There were a few others who dared to go out on dates although you weren’t skilled at that particular form of social calling. Dates that led to the two of you sitting on a couch or even a bed, staring into the immediate wall of discounted art posters, her waiting for you to make the first pre-ordained move, you unable to move anything from fear of culmination. Her kicking off her shoes, freeing her wiggling painted toes (did that just for you) while you drink another because they were popular at the time and girls liked the wine cooler. Her yawning with glistening, ruby lips. You waiting for her to make the first move. Her planning to leave her earrings somewhere in your place so she’d also be leaving you a reason to re-contact. You wondering what she would look like naked on her knees holding onto the couch. Her wondering how big it is, what it looked like, its special shape and how you would hold her while she was on top of your lap, how you’d both eat each other’s face, how you would strangle yourselves taking off your clothes and how you’d roll around struggling maybe saying some requisite sex words as you worked each other’s body, kneading flesh, pumping out and taking in long held back unattached streams and flows of unmarried desires holding each other’s body like a human sex tool, a life-sized accompaniment of your carnal hunger as skin rubs skin raw, as hand holds other hand that grabs down, as legs tense and release, as belly dances low and smooth, as nipples meet pressed and are tasted, as asses are squeezed and slapped and bitten, licked and tasted, smell and smelling the smell of musk and soap and breath and feet are kissed, toes felt with the tongue and body parts, the meaty arm sole of the foot, the feet acting as hands, caressing backs and fronts, hair casting its net over anything it can cover, burying wedges of flesh into flesh and milking hard desire. Until the purest of hard/soft contact, the ballet move that is not writhing, the moment that would invariably never quite happen, and you both would sit and stare and wonder.
Wherefore art thou Romeo?
It is not truly yours until it is lost. Over a decade the camera she bought you when you first met, an extravagant gift, the most exotic thing you’ve ever received. It recorded the extremes of your nomadic union through states, countries, other wheres. It was always there to tell its side of the story. Now it is lost. Gone. For only moments it was left at a canyon overlook in the New Mexican desert, some anonymous tourist or local traveler received as their gift a 35mm art tool left there, in a sense, as a sign meaning it was time for a change. If found, please return to. The camera I left in the desert, as an offering.
Was this the dream undiscovered in eternity: to be with no home in which to stay? No one place, no geographic identity, no identification papers, no creed, no plan except that of a map’s. A life of eating out of plastic containers, food cooked days before, of scrutinizing watches to find bearings in a new time zone, searching cities for pay phones and pay phones with phone books that used to be attached by mechanical umbilical cords. Mail held, messages received, postcards sent, e-mails dismissed as salutary sweet nothings. Who knows where next to go?
In that Canyon de Chelly red haze of a Rothko sunrise when you both arose after attempting to sleep in a car with the seats leveled as far as they would go back, under gently in the wind hula-ing cottonwood trees, on a gravel road where there were more decorative cow skulls than mail boxes, you finally knew that all mornings waking up together would be just this unfamiliar, unearthly and foreign in a good way. A way that intoned being with the same person for a long, long time, and being on the verge of the canyon’s rim, is an occurrence of the weird.
Red as it always is or a deep hued purple towards dusk, the canyon like a wound opened. Wild pretzel-eating dogs, because this is what you fed them, search for edible garbage in the empty visitors’ parking lot. Black Mesa elevated its truncated stage to a level of orange dust substituting for air ravens the size of eagles, cawing and cawing because it is their way of telling a time we didn’t dare understand.