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xii.

He had made the drive a thousand times; it became instinct. East through the commercial playgrounds, the trainyard, large diesel docks&resting places, fuel charges, passt all of it on through the dirtyhills in deadbrush&city litter, finally winding into wide open freedom—red barren desert swallow inside a valley like teeth of mountains, ridges, mesas—miles sprawling outward from uncertain origin; these were places where orphans played. Drove fast; it was only him on the road, and Nando’s ride behind—that was all. They would be alone together: Nick, Ray, and JoEl riding with Fernando; Isabel and Joe riding with him, both of them quiet while music blared from the stereo over a loud rush of wind pulling from the open sunroof above. The sun kept their eyeyes closed, except for Mick of course, though he felt as if he could make this drive blindfolded should he have to, return to this place if only by the change it made in his bones the closer he got, a tingling in his core. Long passt twentynine palms and the reservation, off a side road and into nothing, ascending first and then gradually sloping down, seemingly deeper than they had come; another side road, this time even narrower, a few more miles and then almost without warning Mick stops, so suddenly that behind

him Nando hits the brakes hard and sends up a cloud of dirt&dust, puts his head out the wndow and shouts curses, but Mick cooly steps out and smiles his wide chesire cat grin. The others all follow suit, their smiles more wary, but pleased nonetheless: the sun, lowering toward the edge of a wide valley, was peering at an angle casting wide shadows like lines drawn across a page—the earth was burnt oranj with a solidity still a bit damp from the rains that must’ve passt through the wntr, though they were nearing the close of spring.The desert carried the moisture long with a deeprooted&unquenchable thirst, cherishing each vapor molecule with a slow savor, hiding it: in the dirt, in the underground springs, in the cacti— but conspicuously absent from the air. Could smell dryytongue acrid taste of the sun’s reflection, smelt dust and fiberous remains of rabbits, coyotes, bones licked clean. Nando had brought along Saul, who immediately went sniffing the grounds, content to his own wiles for the night; a return to roots, perhaps. They unloaded the vehicles, chest full of bottled water and food, nighght creeping over, under which, looking up between attempts at setting up the tents, they could clearly see the curvature of the skyy emphasized by streaks offset colord contours, breaking mixed layers of time, blackness revealing in the east, the sun making slow descent in the west, a tension dangling it there, as if it just might startle them and spring up; pounce. Once the tents were propped they sat in folding chairs in a circle and conjured the fire at the center, pulled beers and a box of wine from Mick’s car, pot from Nando’s. Laughing, telling jokes and—when they were drunk enough—singalongs, grand debates, stories once forgotten now told embellished in full detail. Mick played his guitar with songs about owls, a few tinkerings all his own, Ray beat softly his handdrums in casual slow bops underneath soulful mumbling hymns that Joseph sang—for a few moments the desert heard nothing but the joyful panderings of their song, setting notes free&wild into an abyss, the seven of them, plus the dog, gathered close around a lonesome fire while stars beam and a waxing moon drapes a thin veil of milklighght over everything, as though it’s glowing from underneath. Play to yr echo, Mick said to Ray, slow it down and use the reverb—he shifted into a familiar melody, and Fernando and Nick began to sing the harmonies while giggling drunkenly and stumbling over the beat—corrected when Mick begins laughing with his guitar; JoEl lit the joint and took his own small box drum, popping in; Nick, Fernando, and Isabel calm down, ly back and listn unfurling, letting Saul crawl among them, the other four completely engrossed in the path they’re carving, until Mick begins to pull it back and JoEl stops playing to get a cigarette, Ray slows down, Joe wails his finale and as the fire lowers to dormant embers the music breaks away, twisting in strings once more, and ends with the same silence from which it first began. Setting his guitar down, fed more wood into the fire, just enough to get it sputtering again; that was good, Fernando told him. Sheepish reply, still too disoriented/intoxicated to speak for the moment—only feed the fire—so very primal an instinct. Had long ago noticed that fire between people was so natural a setting because it was the element they carried with them, and it would hold them; even if they did not speak they could listn to the fire, could watch it—and could

feed it fuel. Fire, it seemed, was everything, the element reserved for the humn alone, bringing them together in a sort of shared isolation, especially surrounded by nothingness the way they were. But Mick only looked onward to the sky far behind the ramparts, a short grin on his face, his hands reaching out to keep themselves warm by the fire. There had been some instability lately, he could admit that, but this was a beginning, after all—this was a place of both endings&beginnings, there was birth out here, aged growth, and yes, too, there were dried bones brittled by an unrelenting sun; these were wastelands, graveyards. It required close inspection— Mick had learned to see the hidden magnitude of life present always. You have to think of it first on a universal scale, he began telling them, all of it, the stars planets everything, all matter. Starting as a brilliant shine, that big bang blast, from some point of origin: a single unit. A unified, extremely con densed bound force of energy, and then it explodes—into the whole goddamn universe, right? That explosion releases the elements to form solar systems, galaxies, the cosmos; and all matter, the universe expanding, is the lingering effect of that distant, invisible force—right down to here, to the earth now, all of it a single moment in the eternal aftershocks created by the force of that blast, though we remembr that we are engaged in this push now, are part of it; along with all these other objects, are from a common origin and perhaps a common end, that I just don’t know; but even deeper—into molecules, atoms shooting across existence weaving unseen strings into infinitely complex webs of dirt&grass, oceans, rock&tree, the wind, and the fires in the center. The sun. The core of our planet. The heart which pumps hot blood throughout the body. Until these webs become fragments of reality itself, shifting instants composed of firing atoms translated to our senses by our mind in conjunction with artifact—the body—small vibrations that make all time contemporaneous, pulling them together, all of it part of a single larger movement, outward, from that epochal center maybe just into a new, continuous movement inside of itself, until it becomes so condensed that this moment explodes too—and I think about the implications this might have on you&me. Because perhaps in all this chaos there are molecules which are shared by our minds, together, happen in each, or maybe even at the same time—dyou feel that way, sometimes? That history is so broken, so shattered, that maybe our individual selves are lost in the mess, part of even larger reflective webs, a single objective consciousness which can only experience itself subjectively—which can only be sensed, and sensed only through the fragmented reflection of a multitude of possibilities between what is real, and what is unreal. And it is possible, maybe, that each of these pieces, which are us, you&me&everybody, are just that, too, blasts from exploding origins, a universe which is our world&perception, and what we’ve really got here is simultaneous worlds going on, infinite universes inside of one another, and yet still, inevidably, all of them are one. Maybe like blowing balloons from spiderwebs, until just before they pop. Again, he feeds more wood into the fire. What I’ve been thinking about, is trying to untie these pieces, to see every strand. A music like that, even, can you imagine? It seems that’s all we can do; to strive toward imagined impossibilities. My point is just that, that I’m playing what I’ve been thinking here, and what I want to tell you is

that I’ve been thinking about what is,

my thinking has become a series of

about why is, and generally the processes exploding memories, burst into atoms of living, of what it means to be humn. like solar systems, electrons for moons— And I know, that’s vague as hell, but it’s as though the space inside stretches also been what me, why me, and what it without end into the Void. That’s where, means to be me, or better yet, to be.These though, isn’t it? That’s where the music are fundamental questions, and there are is to be played, maybe you might say the

always going to be deviations from that acoustics are best, free like that. But this focal point—distractions, lures, tangents space implies a silence more concrete which take up a lifetime in themselves, than reality itself, and it is here in which but I think perhaps I’ve put myself back experience, process, and imagination on stable footing. Wouldn’t ysay boys? create being, and that’s what I want to Looks over at Isabel when he knows play—the sound of being, of this here— the others don’t notice, laughing and this which spurs wild at first but creates cheering slovenly; she catches him, and a kinetic energy to hold itself together each of them soften their glance with a in volatile fusion of elements, which for sweet grin, then look away. He begins a moment creates dimensional form, to play again, folksongs like appalachia, life, consciousness unique; but then, as hums the melody awhile; before if not there at all, bursts again—into interrupting: it has to be new everytime, exploding memories, dyou understand he says, there is an idea at play here, but now? Just happens like that, again and it can only be surrounded—by each of again. And now I know: this is the music us—together—and that becomes a music I want to reveal in the world. It feels as which provokes further thinking, pushes though I can hear nothing else. // Dyou sensations, invites interaction; that’s have a favorite season, Fernie? Summr, what I want this to be, Joe, you get me on he tells him without hesitation. I live that? Like this here, I want to fill open for the summr—when it’s so hot out yr space with even more space, dimensions shirt sticks to yr back, and the nighghts to nothingness, and from that we could are lukewarm with cooling breezes; and build—what? He laughs hysterically. what about you, Micky, whatcha got for Anything, goddamn it! Absolutely us? My favorite? Oh, I dknow, I was just anything. And continues playing. / This curious was all. I like that they change, is my prayer; and me learning how to that’s all, so long as they change.They fall speak. This is the moment of birth, silent then, and the desert spreads wings discovery, living, and the instant before of noise—cricket chirps, jackrabbits death; breathing for the first time. Don’t running through sand, distant coyote

me crazy, here, I’m not crazy, or howls; in the sky the planets seem nearer,

call

not anymore, it doesn’t matter anyway, venus drawing closer to romance, mars does it? What is crazy anyway, it doesn’t burning in the distance lower than the matter. Just listn. // By now they were all coals in firecentre, and there, he told lying down resting against one another, them, convinced himself, that must be smoking cigarettes when they remembrd jupiter, right? Doesn’t it glow almost their addictions, nursing the inevidable oranj? That’s it, I’m telling you: on a clear onset of a hangover with sips of the last nighght in the desert you can see jupiter.

of the night’s rations, skywatching.

Again took his guitar, playing quietly.

it doesn’t mean anything, not to me at

you all think I went crazy or something, least,or maybe only to me,but meaning is but there is something behind me, and definitely not the point here. Experience I’ve not so much got sane as learned to is the foundation upon which meaning cope with this thing. Dyou understand? becomes artifice; experience is what Fernando had passt out some time ago, moves, what fills the pool of thoughts sitting up against his pack, his mouth which our minds turn into reality. You wide open, as if trying to take a dog’s can tell me what all this means later; bite out of the sky; Ray and Joseph had right now I only want to know how this each gone into a tent to ly down proper, feels. He leans in to kiss her but she pulls though like Nando, Nick had fallen away, then nuzzles herself closer—he asleep listning to their companion’s tries again, but, again, she turns away; rambling. Only Isabel remained awake, it’s then that she apologizes, kisses him, barely, eyeyes droopinghalfopen like deeply, holding her breath, sucking in halfmoon crescents though the moon and biting his lip gently before releasing was waxing that night and her skin him. He has been holding her cheeks in caught the light as if she were a ghost. his hand, rubbing her earlobe between But still, she listnd, and stared from his right thumb and index; when she across the fire into his eyeyes with the pulls away he does not immediately vague intensity of someone who’d not let go, but concedes nonetheless. For a spoken in years. And from behind me, moment they only stare at each other I’ve been able to decipher the clusters of as though afraid to smile. And then she sounds it makes like a voice, unwinding looks over at the tent—after that, Mick’s each strand, and there I have it: a music, motions were quick, with a decisive and which is not mine, is not anyone’s, but confident execution that could only be it is music. He stands and walks over to the work of instinct—taking her hand her; her eyeyes follow him, her silence and leading her to it, stepping in first now just as absolute—takes her hand and leaning close into Ray: hey, hey, get and pulls her up. She resists at first, up now, go on and get into the other tent about to complain about being so tired, with Joe and them, just go on; reluctantly coming down, but decides instead to his friend sits up and leaves grumbling, keep her treasured silence and follow Isabel coming in just after. Mick takes along, standing, letting him lead in a hold of her immediately, they ly down, cheap offkilter attempt at a dance. It’s just ly there, his hands moving tenderly dances, he tells her, the music comes around her silent&still body; when both out in dances, and these whispers of his hands meet at her abdomen she undercurrents line the space with poetry, moves her lips as if to speak, but at the

defining it’s rough edges, but a scope last second kisses him, takes his hands almost now too overbearing—he leans in her own and squeezes them, before in closely; they are no longer dancing but letting go, again to their exploration, swaying, his lips coming so close to hers the undress, the consumate hold and his that they feel gravity working against breath like wind across curves of skin, them. There is no silence then, but a dunes in sand, here, in the desert, again, weave of musics without origin, and where bodies must remain close to the

the words their touch could muster.

there’s something behind me, I know

earth; until sleeping, until dawn rises.

In the morning they fried eggs on a small propane grill,ate them in torillas, fed the dog a couple strips of bacon and drove north, into the highdesert, the ranches passt joshuatree.

Was windier when they stepped out, tumbling hills underneath spread wide into ravines and the stretch of further ranges.

Lowliving plantlife, packt dirt broken by hardy brush and thick straws of wild grass in which Saul runs&leaps; softened patches with ylotipped meadows of small prairieflowrs.

Bands of white rock bore out like a restless core from the sides otherwise brown&green, crackd in gridpatterns offset, bones jutting outward, breaking the skin.

And down they hiked, into the meeting points of the range, where the mountains gripped one another

and attached themselves to an endless mass, a crevice where life most flourished; the wind grew fainter, and while just as hot, they managed to find more shade for breaks and

a trail that would lead them to the

river; until arriving at its banks, only

a light but steady breeze, the sound

of water flowing easy across beds of sienna, swirling into small eddies and bangingsplash between large stones and exposed mounds of reeds.

They find a small beach just a short hike downstream on the opposite side of the river, shaded along the edge of a sandy enclave shielded on all sides by tumbled boulders. Set up camp and open the cooler to pass out beers, light the joints, commence the simple pleasures of leisure among friends—playing in the water and lying to crisp their bodies in the sun, joking about where else they might’ve found themselves on any other day. Mick takes a ukelele from his pack and bops out happyjam noodlings, Isa dances in the water and breaks the current with her hips; Ray is climbing the steep but stacked rocks behind them and the rest are spread around the beach, Fernando whistling a melody over the Mick’s tune, then stopping to take a hit of the joint passt over to him; there is the sound of birds calling to one another from bush to bush, flying low between them. For this moment is fleeting euphoria, a contentment with all that is as it is, silently letting their minds wandr outside their bodies and play in this oasis like making dreams happen, with them together, the moon in the daytime, starburst fireworks sporadic and scarce, the sunshine like shooting stars—totally unaware of time, but not of change—no, change was happening before them: in the movement of the river, occasional crumbles down the sides of hills, the wind swaying the grasses, foxtails, paintbrushes until some of them let go; and even on their bodies they could feel their skin toasting, breathing growing deeper, slower, as if savoring the calm. Mick stops playing and moves to sit along the shore, with just his toes on wet sand; dyou think yll put some stones in yr pockets, Fernando asks him from the shade. I think so, he replies while watching Isabel swim, not paying attention to any of them. I think maybe I got enough stones for a whole sculpture, whaddya say to that, Nicky? Nicholas throws a rock at him, both of them laughing when it barely misses, splashes the water, startling Isa back into the moment. I’m heading back to record soon, Mick tells them, nods over to JoEl and Joseph, who have both fallen asleep in the sun; that’s where I plan on seeing if them stones might make diamonds, just like ysay Fernie, just like ysay; maybe the trick is to pull at it, whiddle down the shapes, yknow, because these are all just raw materials, aren’t they? Look around here, what dysee? Raw materials. The wind picks up while Fernando lights a cigarette, and without warning a large splash erupts as Ray rejoins from a cliff ’s edge.