An immense silence is the pleasure of the desert, just before sunrise, when it is completely quiet and cool, before earth's nakedness is exposed to the fiery disc edging up over the horizon. On the opposite side of the lake, the antelope come to drink, their heads dipping down to sip, then up again, quickly, scanning the surroundings. I watching them, they watching me. A moment, a spot, I was drawn to not as one who hunted but as one who hungered. From among the smooth, round stones underfoot, a rattler struck at my boot.
Thus was I welcomed into this world, the broken world, torn open and scattered over this skeletal domain, and where I vanished into the thin air, climbing the deeply rutted road that ran up the mountain to the played-out mine at Leadville. Seeking to find for myself a world, I learned I had to build from the bones of the past, out of nothing, the poverty of utopia.
Under the Black Rock Mountains, the conveyor buckets from the gypsum quarry run in the gantries overhead, clanking and squeaking into the plant and, emptied, back out again. Inhuman, yes, but the inhuman requires the human: Solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant (“They create a desert and call it a peace”) Construction implies destruction, naturally, it's the dialectic. One hears old Bill's desert music in that.
A ghostly chorus moans through the cracks between the weathered planks of an abandoned outbuilding. In the distance, the harmonic smoke of Burning Man grows and spreads on the fickle wind. I had returned, a forty-seven-year hole in time intervening between then and now, to my lost narrative thread. And one day the thread will be cut, the narrative end, and I, this narrative, beginning and end, this accumulation of experiences, will be gone, dropping like a dust-devil when the wind dies.
Nevada was once Mare Nevada, the snowy sea.
Now it is a cradle of dust in which I lie, looking up at the mobile stars, tracking their radiant patterns across the dome of night. I see the people who have left this earth traveling the highway of the dead. My memory is an ancient sea-bed. I am a joining of the future to the past: out of nothing, to nothing return. I trace the trajectory of my life, which, orbiting like a satellite, spirals through time.
I found myself completely enveloped within a sudden sandstorm, stumbling, blinded. I found a post and clung to it until the wind died down and slowly the wall of sand lowered about me. Out in back, a pump, still working, though creaking rustily, the clear, cool artesian well water flowed into the battered tin cup. Desire's springs answer the prayer. The Sons of The Pioneers sang that one: “cool, clear water, water.” I played them on 78's. “Ghost Riders in The Sky” gave me chills. I imagined I could see them, shadows riding on shadows, up the steep sides of the canyon, through the Spanish saber, mounting into a sombre sky out of which floods flashed and lightning uncoiled and struck like a rattler.
On the barren salt flats an armed angel in a union jack jumpsuit, guards the gates of perception. We gravely exchange UFO sightings. Alongside the Union Pacific tracks, Rolling Stock, an old bindlestiff with crinkled, leathery face, turns his ancient, glittering eyes toward the ineffable heights where the clouds curdle on the peaks. He winks, salutes, and jumps the last freight out of Gerlach. (A harmonica's lonesome wail sounds on the scratchy soundtrack in the background.)
Irene and Cliff lived in a trailer in a place called Gabs, a stark, biblical monosyllable, where I saw a Gila Monster, pretty far north, but within its range, like a slow-moving, stuffed sock done in Indian beadwork, crawling from the shelter of an overhanging rock to face the desert morning. McGillicutty treed a bobcat, ran him right up a telegraph pole. There he stood, back arched, balanced on all four paws on the top of the pole.
At the foot of the Black Rock Mountains, rises a tall, mineral formation, like a great gourd streaked with vitreous colors, red, ochre, green, cyan, hot water whistling out its side and top, the sharp smell of sulfur, like rotten eggs, in the air, surrounded by a lush pond it has created, bordered by cattails. A vee of ducks turns in the blue void of desert sky and sets down on the surface of the water.
Geologic sculpting, the emergence of form from the actions of wind, heat, cold, water, tectonic seizures, a fulcrum for a lever to move the earth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Surryhne was an Associate Lecturer in English Literature at San Francisco State University from 1993-2012. He is currently semi-retired and has recently returned to writing poetry. A native of San Francisco, he was a baby-beat in the sixties, knew some of the beat poets and is now a neo-beat. In his alternate career, he worked in Community Mental Health in San Francisco from 1979-2012. He took first place in the Jack Kerouac Poetry contest in 2015 and has published in The Blue Moon Review and Interpretations. He is currently working on a project with a photographer friend on poem-texts and photos.