Sleepingfish net

../ ]  [N/09.01.06] [ Where I Stay (excerpt)
by Andrew Zornoza
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N/09.01.11 ]

Sep. 26, Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho

The earth is black and buckled. Dunes of rock squeeze out of the ground like toothpaste that has dried and become cracked and fissured. Someone has drawn an arrow in chalk marking the way back to the road. A large bird glides through the sky. The land is vast and barren. When a car passes on the edge of the distant horizon it appears only as a speck of white light. Here, in the middle of nothing, is a rusted bronze plaque: Incinerated Forest (Tree Molds). Taped to the plaque is a purple flower and a piece of paper. I pick up the paper and put the tape and flower in my pocket. A boy with a crown sitting on a rock orbiting the earth is drawn on the paper. Written underneath the drawing are the words, "What makes the desert beautiful, says the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well." Past the plaque is a field pockmarked with deep holes, each half-filled with iridescent oil-slicked water. Past that is a hump of sagebrush, past that a mound of broken boulders. In between two large stones is a shallow cave I lay down in. I tape the drawing and words to the side of the cave and push the flower into a small map of lichen on the ceiling.


I need you to know how it was with me.


Oct. 1, Bonudarant, Wyoming

Music and laughter can be heard from the road. In the woods is a clearing with a blazing fire, old men with furs. Lean Hispanic boys in jeans and fleece jackets sing Spanish songs to a white man playing a violin. More Hispanic boys lurk at the outskirts of the light, they seem happy, silent on their haunches. Twice a year we come down from the mountains, says one of the men. He passes me a jug filled with liquor. The Argentines bring down their sheep, we do some trading. A younger boy runs, jumps over the fire. Do you live in a camp? No, no, we trap, we go out on our own. The Indians work in teams of two. Some women will come up from town once the sun goes down. He laughs. They know what we're here for. Are you survivalists? No, he says, angry. Son, we've been doing this for hundreds of years, my dad lived on the Shoshone and his father the Gannett and his father before. Shit, every year someone asks me that. We like you townsfolk coming on up here, but we ain't museum pieces, he says. One of the boys begins playing an accordion and some of the men begin to dance. Three women appear from the woods. A police officer, in uniform, looks at the fire and takes the fire-jumper aside. Now the fire-jumper sullenly carves glyphs into the stump he sits on. The Argentines set up a table displaying bracelets, tablecloths and knitted rugs. The moonshine is not free anymore, several cars drive up and their lights push back the darkness. Skinned rabbits dangling from a pole are put over the fire. In the woods, a ragged line of inert bodies and patches of vomit stretches across the forest floor. Men put their hands on the trees to steady themselves while they piss. Smoke rises through the moonlight.

Zornoza 2

There are places I kept returning to. At Craters of the Moon, I had a place to sleep that I was always able to find. Once I taped a drawing I found to the wall. When I came back several weeks later someone had written –HELLO at the bottom of that piece of paper. They also left a tattoo gun made out of a toothbrush, a pen, guitar string and a tiny electric motor. I tried to use it but the batteries were dead. I had put a flower on the ceiling and they had put a second flower next to it.


Oct. 14, La Pine, Oregon

The earth is wrong. The birds are gone or silent. The road broken. I sit in the lupine and wait. The sun pasted like a white disk in the sky. The dog has been following me, she squats just out of reach. I call the dog Betsy. Betsy and I are hungry. The pavement has ceased to function. What is this place? Betsy does not know. She is blameless. Silently we consider the steam pouring out of the earth.

Now I am losing pieces of places, of myself.


Oct. 16, Ogden, Utah

Chickens scratch at the dirt road, a peacock stands motionless, one eye fixed in my direction. I wait for the car to pull out the driveway. Through the windows I see a litter box, couches, a framed diploma wedged between books. I wait for the car to come back. We sleep behind a eucalyptus tree. I wait for the car to leave again the next morning. Betsy whines as I tuck her into my arms. She licks the salt off my face. She squirms as I fill a bowl of water. I clear a space on the bottom of the coop. I put her inside. I walk away. She is crying.

Sometimes I wrote things down, fragments. But then I looked at them and they did not seem real and there seemed to be no purpose in writing them. There was nothing in them, other than things I did not want to remember.


Nov. 1, Walden, Colorado

Patches of snow cover the ground, but it is not cold. It is night—a blue-black pincushion sky, dense with stars. Inside the helicopter a candle flickers, illuminating the shape of a man in a sleeping bag, an oriental rug, bottles of water and stacks of canned cat food. A map is taped to the wall, lines have been drawn from spots on the map to the margins, each line ending in a crowded scrawl of letters and numbers, coordinates and temperatures, illegible words. I wonder how long this man has been out here.

I was underneath a park bench. This woman, a girl really, kept approaching me. I had read Nikos Kazantzakis. I tried to talk to her about this, but she did not know who that was. But she knew a brother named Nikos and for some reason she was looking for him under a park bench. She would not help me, but she seemed like an angel: an angel in picture books, she was not like you, she was distant and involved in something I did not understand.


Nov. 2, Rawlins, Wyoming

Where's Nikos? Where's Nikos? shouts an angel. There is a white dress, a ribbon, a worried floating face. I move my hand out from under the park bench, Here, Here . . . Here I am! She pats my head, crosses my wrists urgently. No, No, she says, Not you. Let's find Nikos, she says. Please! Take me with you! No, No, she says again, you can't stay here or with us. It's Nikos I'm looking for, not you. You are nobody.

Now that I am losing these pieces, they just fall away and clatter along behind me. I am making a scene. Here in the grocery aisle, at the bus station, in the parking lot. In front of you. Even here, when I want things to come out the best way they can.


Nov. 6, US Atomic Energy Commission Reservation, Arco, Idaho

The road is a tight, thin line. No shoulder, each side guarded with loops of barbed wire and electric fencing: metal signs with skulls and crossbones threaded into the electric wires every few feet. An SUV stops in the middle of the road, the door opens, the car belches a fog of cold air. The man puts forth his hand and shakes mine, tightly bunching my knuckles together. He is past middle-age, with creased khakis, tinted glasses and a flattop haircut. I look at everything as an opportunity, he says. I'm a Toastmaster, do you know what that is? You an army kid? My father was in the army. . . . Well, he says, I'm Marines. He rests his right hand behind my headrest. See, I can talk about anything—it's about communication. Just give me a topic. Okay, let's just look out the window, he says. What's out there, looks like nothing. Looks like a wasteland, right? I look out the window. But there is no nothing, he says. He moves his driving hand to gesture at the land outside. This is a large caldera, covering thousands of square miles. An area of pressure building up. All this empty nothing was dumped here thousands of years ago, heaved out from the earth itself, tons of rock and ash. All life for hundreds of miles extinguished instantly—a black cloud from Mexico to the Mississippi. Now those aren't just rocks that you're looking at. Not just rocks, I say. That's right, he says. Now let's go one step forward, let's deepen the discussion. See them signs, those smokestacks in the middle of nothing? Yes. That's man. Man's put his hand in the pie, that's nuclear power. Now let's really get out there. What do you think about nuclear power? I don't know. Okay, well. The Russians blew a 100 kiloton bomb, out in the Arctic Sea in 1948. Nova Zembla. That's nothing compared to what happens if this caldera goes again. And it'll happen again, bet your pants—but, here's the kicker, it probably won't for a hell of a long while, that's in the science fiction future. But what we got here, we got atomic energy in the middle of nowhere, with fissile material just coming in and out every day. This is today, this isn't fiction. Okay. Hold on, I'm really humming now. So you got fissile material, a gram of which makes a little backpack nuke and you got it sitting on top an area of massive geothermal pressure. Do the math, can you see where I'm going? It could be anti-government people, could be an inside job, could be some Russians still on the inside, could be the Belgians, no one suspects them, could be anybody. Oh yeah, lot a people got their eye on this spot of nothing.

When you are on the side of the road, when you are on a train, you are not free, it is the opposite of freedom. You are a vessel for the world to fill, or throw against the wall, God turns the radio dial of your life.


Nov. 22, Fort Collins, Colorado

You know this song, you gotta serve somebody? The man moves slowly, he has a scraggly beard going grey; he reaches over and turns up the volume on the cassette player. I'm not so sure about it, he says. Silence, time passes, the needle on the car's fuel gage falls through ¾, to a ½ ,to a ¼. The fuel light turns red. We pull in to a gas station. At three in the morning, he suddenly says, You remind me of someone, he didn't say anything to me either. We stop at a supermarket and the man goes out and brings back some apples, peanut butter, and crackers. Hours later, when we stop for gas a second time, he begins talking again: He was rangy like you, he had hazel eyes. He set this little old bird down in A Shau and he got me out of there, I didn't deserve to get out, it wouldn't mattered one bit to me if I was still there lying in the bush. I don't think the outcome of anything mattered to either of us at that time—he could of died, I could of died. But somehow it matters to me now. It matters if I think of the wife and kids I got, it matters to me that he had those little ropes of kite-string tied to his wrists and he was strong enough to pull me out with one hand without me helping much. And I just don't see any connection between that me lying there hot and itching and fading away, and the me now, but sure was he able to patch me up in that chopper. Something about your eyes and that you have these guitar string tied on your wrists, and the way you're not even looking at me but you're here all the same whether you know it or not, something about that reminds me of you or him—I don't know it all gets jumbled together. . . .

I need you to know. How it was for me. How I obliterated myself.

Andrew Zornoza is a visual artist and writer born in Houston, Texas. He is the author of the photo-prose novel, "Where I Stay," to be released by Tarpaulin Sky Press in 2009. His fiction has appeared in magazines such as Confrontation, Porcupine Literary Arts, CapGun, and Matter Magazine, among others. More work is forthcoming from Gastronomica and H.O.W. He is a contributor to and lives in Brooklyn. For more, see

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