2 nonfiction pieces

by Elizabeth Hall

Elizabeth Hall is the author of I HAVE DEVOTED MY LIFE TO THE CLITORIS (Tarpaulin Sky Press) and the chapbook Two Essays (eohippus labs). Her writing has appeared in Best Experimental Writing, Black Warrior Review, Eleven Eleven, LA Review of Books, and elsewhere.

Nowhere California

we do not hike. we wander through yuccas with beer in our purse. big bossy clouds seal off the sky. J is hung over, slow, knuckles busted. i don’t ask her how it happened. i wait for her to tell me.

 

*

 

a canyon with red walls. a woman with a dog wants us to stop, sniff the black bush. she shows us how to do it. she leans close, blows on the bush, inhales hard. we do as she instructs. we smell smoke and smile. we ask her the name of the bush. she shrugs. the bark looks as if it were painted on with a brush.

 

*

 

on the road to mecca we stop to photograph the purple mountains. J stands in a wash, dwarfed by two massive transmission towers, camera slung around her neck. do you hear that? she asks. listen. i do. the towers are crackling.

 

*

pitch the tent among the shadows of sandstone boulders. no stars. no one cares. a full moon. a portal to taurus, or so we were told in the horoscope. money, sex, power, us. we drink all the wine, watch the clouds break apart. this is how a friendship begins again: two women sitting side by side, talking and not talking, hours on end.

 

*

a high, cutting sun. deep, purple recesses under my eyes. gold-tipped joshua trees fly by outside the car window as daddy jim ford sings a song just for us i’ll be ahead if i can quit while i’m behind.

 

*

pearblossom highway. i skid off into a dirt lot. in the distance a brick grid, two crumbling fireplaces frame a cell tower. the ruins of llano del rio, all that is left of the socialist colony built before even hollywood. telephone poles rise from the scrub. rusted cans, crushed glass all over the sand. nowhere california is spray-painted on the side wall of a concrete pit filled with bottle caps. the sun sharp. J’s face is lashed with shadows. i sit on a warm stone and watch those big black birds drop down and hang in the air. i am nostalgic for a time when it seemed possible to revolutionize society simply by fleeing the city, holing up in the desert with friends. a truck full of sweet onions honks. i’m back.

When We Wake

there are birds screeching in the marina. slimy grey clouds. i can hear the water sloshing against the docks, my stomach.  sunglasses pushed up my nose. on the balcony i smoke a spliff until it's all gone. i can’t do it any other way. below kids leap into a pool shaped like a palm frond then push themselves out the water, four hands flat against the concrete lip. again, again, the youngest shouts, his red domed cheeks. as if it’s the most natural, joyous thing to fling one’s body into the cold water again and again.

the best thing about the past is that it's over, writes joanne kyger in a poem i read on my phone. the sun a greasy smear on the screen. when you die. you wake up. i wake up. black coffee in a tiny white cup. a rotting rose in my purse shirred from the stem by my car keys. if this were a noir, i’d do my best bruno anthony: baby let’s do everything before we die. this isn’t goodbye.

on the drive home, i miss all three freeway ramps. i ride a patchy four lane cut through an industrial strip that once was marshland. i can’t find my way back to the freeway, but i discover something new: a grid of smoke stacks, plastic processing plants, parking lots filled with engineers in baggy khakis. i know from the name on the white building that inside they’re testing high energy lasers, microelectronics for reconnaissance. these hangars of bombers, stealth hawks more so-cal to me than sunset blvd. these flats of wildflowers. crease of blue sea above the black mustard, a yellow fringe along every road. superbloom, or so the newspapers say. a wildfire hazard. but it’s not fire season yet. it’s spring.