My Mother’s Robe by L.I. Henley

I wear my mother’s terrycloth

four in the morning     back in her home


renting for cheap while it waits to be sold & I wait

for a signal


wait for the coffee machine to finish


for ancient crumbs

in the knife grooves of the cutting board

to tell me a story


how to solve the equation of winter

plus no propane

plus no wood


The answer is always

So what

I like it that way…


Hello old home!     Hello hard pain!


*           *           *


Maybe I am building     sure

hammering something into shape

something that can be hammered

stone or leather



There is air moving through

a conch that I have never seen but often hear

louder & louder

it is carried to whatever desert I fling myself

it arrives in the early morning

& I must get up     get up & do what?

Dance around a bit     drink coffee fast

go to work


I am my own little shadow

& someday my body will give the gift

of availability the easiest way it can

which is to say    it will stop


*           *           *


Here we do not recognize walls as walls

& so the weather lives with us always


Last night I dreamed again about the meth-head

neighbor who drove right through

our chain-link gate


Today you & I will burn the stumps

lining my mother’s driveway

After that     we’ll take apart the redwood fence

that I used to seal & re-seal for summer cash


Today I heard a voice rushing through a conch

& got up to find the mouth      Today

my mother’s robe

is wearing me around


Keeping Our Own Names

We have one photo of the courthouse wedding

us in our shorts with two of my grandparents

in attendance     champagne & cold cuts came after


My grandfather     the retired naval officer

was only a year from death & so

drank the most     blessed us with his dancing


For the honeymoon we moved

to a cabin in Joshua Tree where


scorpions ran around the porch

like Arabian horses     Tarantulas

with monkey faces moved in like carnivals

that broke down & never left


We made a movie about escaped convicts

living on the lamb

poured brandy on our collection of stab wounds

gleamed from the local bars


& ha     remember how worried they got

when we decided to stay ourselves?

L.I. Henley was born and raised in the Mojave Desert village of Joshua Tree, California. Her chapbooks include Desert with a Cabin View and The Finding, both from Orange Monkey Press. Her full-length, THESE FRIENDS THESE ROOMS, will be published by Big Yes Press in June, 2016. She is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets University Award, the Duckabush Poetry Prize, and the Orange Monkey Publishing Prize. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, RHINO Magazine, Main Street Rag, Askew, and other places. She co-owns and edits the online (and soon to be print) journal Apercus Quarterly with her husband, poet Jonathan Maule. Despite having multiple auto-immune conditions, she is an amateur bodybuilder and is studying to become a personal trainer.


Cynthia Anderson

A Tale of the Pleiades

On the longest night

they glow in the east,


a glittering diamond clasp—

sisters who flee their father


who decide to die together,

who escape to the heavens


to find a new home,

who shine from there


on Coyote. Found out,

they let him prevail,


let him ride to the stars

on the back of the youngest


who throws him off

when he cannot keep


his hands or his penis

to himself—


And though he falls

to earth and dies,


that does not stop him.

Bird songs tell


how the sisters rise

in their diadem of safety


while Coyote howls,



and immortal.

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her award-winning poems have appeared in journals such as Askew, Dark Matter, Apercus Quarterly, Whale Road, Knot Magazine, and Origami Poems Project. She is the author of five collections—”In the Mojave,” “Desert Dweller,” “Mythic Rockscapes,” and “Shared Visions I” and “Shared Visions II.” She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens.

On Dr. Clifford Trafzer’s A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe by Ruth Nolan

The story of Willie Boy, a love struck young Southern Paiute-Chemehuevi man who murdered for love and eluded the San Bernardino sheriff’s posse for days, is a true and timeless and living story, one that’s colored the storied inland southern California landscape where it occurred in late Sept.- early Oct, 1909.

It’s a tragic story of young, forbidden love that reaches “Romeo and Juliet” proportions and whose tellings and re-tellings in the decades since—through books, articles, theater productions, and film, told largely by Anglos—have continued to evolve across the cultural and geographic divides that comprise the Inland Empire and Mojave Desert as well as the Anglo-European worlds of the early 20th century and the ancient culture of our region’s Native Americans.

Now, a compelling and exciting new book about the Willie Boy incident, “A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe,” published this year by Indigenous Confluences Press, has risen on the horizon, written collaboratively by Dr. Clifford Trafzer, distinguished history professor at UCR who was appointed Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian History in 2007, along with members of the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians in eastern Riverside county, who are descendants of the family members involved in the Willie Boy incident.

“The Willie Boy incident in 1909, which played out across the national media, was a watershed event in the history of the members of the Southern Paiute-Chemehuevi tribe who lived at Oasis of Mara (now 29 Palms Oasis) at the time,” says Trafzer, who presented a lecture at the UCR-Palm Desert campus this past October 5, to discuss his new book. “A Chemehuevi Song” is, he says, a song in itself, a song which began for him when he came to participate in tribal activities with members from the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians in 1997, and has continued to emerge as he’s worked with tribal members to this day.

The book, while giving Native accounts of the heretofore highly disputed story of Willie Boy—especially the claim made by the San Bernardino sheriff’s posse in 1909 about Willie—also sheds light on how the incident forever and radically changed the lives of the extended family members and other Chemehuevi living at 29 Palms in 1909, as well as shaping the lives of their descendants to this day. In fact, the Oct 5 lecture was attended by many members of the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians who worked with Trafzer to complete their book and who also spoke at the lecture, including elder Joe Mike Benitez, Dean Mike, and Jennifer Mike.

More than anything, according to Trafzer and Chemehuevi contributors, “A Chemehuevi Song” stands as a testament to the power of perseverance of this small, nomadic band of Native people, who have been largely marginalized by European settlers, other Native groups, and until now, their stories have been largely overlooked. The book reveals how members of this Southern Paiute band have survived the past two centuries without rights to their Mojave Desert homeland, or any self-governing rights, and in fact were largely “forgotten” until the creation of the 29 Palms Reservation in 1974. Since then, the tribe has formed its own tribal government and now a thriving gaming industry.

Trafzer worked with the Chemehuevi for more than 10 years, gathering stories from the tribe and other Chemehuevi across the Mojave that demonstrate how they’ve survived using sacred songs and other cultural practices to persevere with strength and independence, in spite of great odds, including the tragic and family-shattering Willie Boy incident.

By focusing on individual and family stories, “Chemehuevi Song” offers a new structure for how tribal histories can be presented and shared, and also, critically, offers firsthand indigenous accounts of the events surrounding the Willie Boy tragedy as well as how this crucial event has impacted tribal lives, even to this day, and strong evidence presented by the tribe as well as by other historians and other Native leaders in recent years has presented strong evidence that Willie Boy got away, escaping the posse not through suicide but on foot, and lived for many years afterwards in remote parts of the desert.

“A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe,” is a compelling and necessary read for all who are interested in Inland Empire/desert regional literature, as well as those with an interest in our region’s American Indian history and cultures and their emerging, strong voice in shaping the literature here. For this powerful new publication brings together a chorus of voices, present and past, to tell the story of the tribe’s persistent efforts to gain recognition, independence, and also to tell their own stories of their history and landmark cultural events.

This is more than a book. This is a song, comprised of many voices, a song that rings out powerfully as it’s sung across the land.

Fire On the Mojave: Stories of Fire in the Deserts and Mountains of Inland Southern California by Ruth Nolan

“Fire up Thunder Creek and the mountain / troy’s burning ! / The cloud mutters / The mountains are your mind…” — Gary Snyder

On a 110 degree June day in 1983, I was on a bus heading towards the San Jacinto Mountains, part of the Mojave Greens blue card wildfire crew. As we descended from Victorville, our home base, through the Cajon Pass and east along Interstate 10, the header of smoke on a massive—and rapidly growing—wildfire enticed everyone on the crew. Whistles and shouts of excitement quickly gave way to silence as we neared our destination: a fire camp being hastily erected at a park in Cabazon, where we would disembark from the bus and wait for our firefighting assignment.

Just before we arrived, one of the guys on the crew made a loud and sarcastic comment: “I’ll bet it’s those Morongo Indians from the reservation again, setting fires. They do that all the time, so they can get some work, putting those fires out!” Everyone laughed nervously, and I wondered if his statement was true or not, but there was no time to find out. I was too busy bracing myself to get ready to hike up the imposing slopes of the northern face of Mt. San Jacinto—one of the steepest mountain escarpments in North America—and face heat, smoke, and other dangers I could only imagine, all as part of a day’s work cutting fire line to help stop the spread of the wildfire.

More than thirty years later, as I embark on a year-long, multimedia sabbatical project, “Fire on the Mojave: Stories from the Deserts and Inland Southern California Mountains,” I haven’t forgotten that crude comment. For a long time, I’d brushed it off as an urban legend, a culturally insensitive and blatantly untrue fabrication, which indeed it turned out to be.

However, I’ve learned that our Inland and Desert Native American tribes have a long, intimate relationship with wild land fire management, developed, through centuries of living in close relationship to the land, a thorough knowledge of the vital role that wildfires in our foothill, mountain and deserts play in helping sustain a healthy ecology here. As it turns out, our region’s Native Americans have long been far ahead of the curve of later 20th and early 21st century wildfire management policies, and we have much to learn from their traditional wisdom and experience.

For example, research by noted Native anthropologists and scholars Thomas C. Blackburn, Kat Anderson, and Dr. Lowell Bean, in the book Before the Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians (Malki Press-Ballena Press), reveals that our region’s Native American people did indeed sometimes light deliberate fires right here in our mountains and deserts, as did Native people throughout California.

However, far from resembling the types of careless human behaviors that tragically fuel many of today’s wildfires—a carelessly dropped cigarette butt, or an abandoned campfire, for example—fire strategies practiced by our local tribes played a vital role in their ability to survive and live sustainably in our rugged geographic landscapes. In fact, wildfire agencies such as the United States Forest Service are increasingly turning to this wisdom as a critical resource in wildfire management as climate change, the current historic drought, and increased development in areas known as the “urban-wilderness interface” fuel larger and more dangerous fires throughout the Western U.S.

According to these researchers, records demonstrate that desert Native American people of the past routinely burned stands of Native palm trees—another important resource—as a means to kill off pest and disease, and to help favor new palm growth and germination. They also set fire to mesquite groves—which provided a vital food source—as a way to kill mistletoe from the trees.

The Cahuilla, Kumeyaay and Chemehuevi, Indians, among others in our area, also burned grasses in the desert and mountains here as a way to strengthen the population of deer, antelope and rabbits, another important food source. Clearly, these people possessed an intimate relationship in the behavior and uses of wildfire that enabled them to survive here in some of the harshest of geographies.

One of the many goals of my “Fire on the Mojave: Stories from the Deserts and Inland Southern California Mountains” project is to include representations such as these, from the many story-threads in our region’s longstanding history and relationship with wildfires, both present and past.

It’s unlikely that wildfires will be leaving our region anytime soon, and in fact of such unprecedented influences such as climate change, it may well be the stories of wildfires, beginning with the people who have been present here the longest, that in the end allow us to continue to survive and even thrive in a place where wildfires have long scarred, shaped, and helped regenerate the land we call home.

It’s been many years since I faced that wall of flame, with its impressive white header of smoke billowing high up into space, as a frightened but enervated young woman on one of our local wildfire crews, but the story of that fire in the San Jacinto Mountains near Cabazon, and the strange rumor I heard, stay with me to this day, as vivid and clear cut as a forest of trees after flames have scoured the land clean, leaving only the lonely, haunting black skeletons of what were once lush green trees, buried in foot-deep ashes.

Starting from there, I begin my journey today, telling my own fire stories and learning much from the fire stories of those who were here long before I was born.

Follow Ruth Nolan’s “Fire on the Mojave: Stories from the Deserts and Mountains of Inland Southern California”

A Journey Into the Mojave Desert’s Old Woman Mountains by Ruth Nolan

There are stories in books, and there are stories in words, and there are stories embedded in the landscape itself. Such are the stories found in the Old Woman Mountains, a “sky island” mountain range rising from the low desert floor to as high as 5,300 feet in a remote area of eastern San Bernardino County known as the Heart of the Mojave, accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle.

There’s the story of the Old Woman Meteorite, the largest meteorite ever found in the United States, which was found here in 1938. There are stories of miners and ranchers, and stories of the desert’s Native American shamans—holy men—praying for visions inside caves, whose ceilings and walls they painted with ochre designs and carved with petroglyphs. There are stories of the fight to stop a nuclear waste site from being built in neighboring Ward Valley back in the 1990’s, which spills from the alluvial fans of the Old Woman Mountains. This is a deeply storied landscape.

And the stories of the Old Woman Mountains continue to unfold, to this day. One such story is one I am part of. It’s a story of the blessing and dedication ceremony that took place this past May 23, on an unseasonably cool and cloud-graced afternoon, where several dozen adults and children representing several desert and other Native American tribes, educators, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel, local ranchers, Sierra Club volunteers, and members of the desert advocacy and protection group, the Native American Land Conservancy, gathered for a ceremony to dedicate and bless the restoration project at the Old Woman Mountains Preserve, sponsored by the NALC.

On that day, those who gathered in the Old Woman Mountains in the Heart of the Mojave watched as Anza-Cahuilla tribal member Michael Madrigal and Agua Caliente Tribal Specialist and member Sean Milanovich cut the ribbon across the new entrance gate to the 2,500 acre preserve, which was acquired by the NALC—formed in 1998—as part of the group’s long-term efforts to protect and preserve Native American traditional cultural properties, as well as to pass along what NALC Executive Director Kurt Russo calls, “the spirit of place” to both native and non-native members.

On that day, those who gathered, including members of the desert’s Cahuilla and Chemehuevi tribes, as well as members of the Lummi tribe from the Seattle area, grew silent as Madrigal and Milanovich gathered everyone in a circle, at the base of an area of sacred rocks protected by a newly-erected protective fence, and began to perform desert Indian bird songs, using traditional gourd rattles to keep time as a line of dancers standing in front of them followed their lead.

As Madrigal and Milanovich sang, gourd rattles firmly and purposefully in hand, and the dancers followed along, a fat hummingbird appeared above their heads, looking down on those gathered around, before buzzing away. Then, high above, circling into the clouds, two turkey vultures rose above our heads, seemingly drawn into the power and beauty of the bird songs, which have been sung by bird singers here and across the California deserts for centuries by Native Americans who have lived and spent time here in the Old Woman Mountains and beyond, living purposefully and sustainably with the diversity of resources the desert has long provided them.

“It has been a great honor to take part in the dedication project at the Old Woman Mountains Preserve,” says Madrigal. “I feel we came to honor the long-standing relationship between this sacred place and indigenous peoples of the region. The life-giving and healing spirit of the Old Woman Mountains Preserve welcomed us—as we prayed and sang in recognition and thanks for the opportunity to reconnect ourselves with the sacredness of this place where countless generations have come to give thanks, to pray, and to seek greater vision.”

The NALC acquired the Preserve in 2002, with the intent of protecting and preserving this critical Native usage area, as well as providing cultural sustenance and continuity to promote cross-cultural understanding of the value and significance of Native American sacred lands. In addition to opening the Preserve to hikers and visitors, who can use beautiful new kiosks to guide them, the NALC has also created the Learning Landscapes program, which brings Native youth, elders and families to spend time at the preserve, so that the stories long told here can continue to unfold.

According to Russo, the NALC was able to complete the project with a $376,000 grant from the California State Parks Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division grant program, and more than $100,000 from the Bureau of Land Management. Members of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and private landowners also participated in the project. “It was a great collaboration,” Russo said.

As the vehicle I rode in left the preserve for the rugged four-hour journey home after the Old Woman Mountains Preserve blessing ceremony and dedication of the Old Woman Mountains Preserve, I looked to the sky once again. Three huge, red-tailed hawks, the biggest I’ve ever seen, rose into the sky from one of the range’s many peaks, circled above our caravan of SUV’s, looking down on us, then disappeared again into the heart of the range.

Haiku / Poetry Writing Workshop in Joshua Tree, March 7, 2015 by Ruth Nolan

Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park Presents: Desert Haiku Writing in Joshua Tree National Park, March 7, 2015 at the Black Rock Visitor Center, Joshua Tree National Park. Led by Ruth Nolan and Deborah P. Kolodji.

Joshua Tree, CA—Spring is coming soon, and March is an ideal month to visit the Mojave Desert as wildflowers begin to bloom! Be inspired by the power and beauty of the desert setting to learn how to write haiku—one of the most basic types of poetry—as well as other nature-based forms of poetry in this writing-intensive field seminar. Participants will take brief walks and be introduced to the ecologic and cultural/historical richness of the desert at Joshua Tree studded Black Rock Campground. In addition to writing haiku that stems from the direct experience of this natural desert wonderland, participants will also be led in writing other short forms of poetry and some short prose stemming from creative writing prompts. This workshop is open to writers of all levels, from beginning to advanced, and is suitable for ages 14+. The workshop is led by desert poet/writer Ruth Nolan, MFA, Professor of English and Creative Writing at College of the Desert, and poet Deborah P. Kolodji, former chair of the Southern California Haiku Study Group.

TO REGISTER OR RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION: contact Kevin Wong, program director via email at or by phone (760) 367-5583.

You can also register online on the Desert Institute website.

Home of the Scorpions – Notes from the Gateway to Death Valley by Ruth Nolan

The first thing I notice when I arrive at the two-room Mojave Cabin on a cold, sunny early January afternoon in tiny, remote Shoshone—a Mojave Desert town 3 hours north of the Inland Empire—is the huge scorpion mounted on the wall next to the front door…..


It’s a wire scorpion, crafted simply, and in a flash quick as a scorpion’s sting, I know I’m where I need to be. I’m now officially the Writer in Residence for the month of January, 2015 this one café, one gas station town which proudly calls itself the Gateway to Death Valley. And, of course, the mascot of the small, K-12 Death Valley Public School, is the scorpion!

And why does this all matter? It matters greatly to me, because I’m about to write, and hopefully finish, the first draft of a book which takes place largely in the Mojave Desert. I’m here to dig in and find the quiet, space, and scenic inspiration to make major headway writing my memoir about my years fighting wildland fires for the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert District during the late 1980’s, when I was an undergraduate at California State University, San Bernardino.


I’ve left the comforts of life in urbanized Palm Desert far behind; land of a new Whole Foods gourmet grocery store and a huge Apple store where I can go for all of my iPhone and MacBook Air needs.

After I quickly settled in, I stepped outside to inhale the crisp air and austere sunset. The scorpion seemed to humor me, as I’ve quickly discovered that there’s neither cell phone nor internet service here. There’s no landline phone in my room, either.


I’m on my own, with a palette of January days stretching ahead of me, waiting for a flash flood of words to spill onto the page, and hopefully while I’m here, page after page will capture the magic and hardships and transformational journeys I took across the storied Mojave landscape in my younger years, working on fire after fire in some of the remotest geographies in the world, which happen to be in the backyard of the sedate Inland Empire and Coachella Valley.

In the year 2015, it’s easy to be seduced by the easy and ubiquitous conveniences and reliance on internet technology, and it seems a little harder each year for me to climb my way back out into the remote Mojave Desert wildlands I grew up in, lived in for most of my adult life, and know so well, like the inside of my soul.


In fact, I’d argue that the Mojave Desert is part of my soul, a part that never lets me rest, and compels me to a place like this, to slip like a Mojave Green rattlesnake out of the creatively restrictive skin that living in urban environments encases me in, so that I can write the way I really need to write. Here, I can’t spend hours watching Netflix, or checking Facebook, or scrolling through my twitter feed for the latest, repetitive headlines, or playing around on my new iPhone 6. Nope. Here, the rattlesnakes and scorpions and raw cut desert views of mountain and alluvial fan will dominate my view, and demand the attention they deserve.

In fact, I’m writing this in the old west Crowbar Café, the only place open tonight, and I’ve just helped a young, frightened tourist from Brazil, who drove from Las Vegas and got lost in Death Valley after dark on a night where temperatures are forecast to dip far below freezing, and somehow found his way here, guided by the Crowbar’s lights.


He said he lost his way because there was no cell phone service out here, and therefore didn’t have his map app to use. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think the Mojave Desert took over his journey, and forced him to stop, and wander, and, in the end, to really learn to see, before he finds I-15 and returns to the world of built-in answers and predictabilities. He was overjoyed when I told him that as he heads to LA tonight, following the directions I drew on a napkin while sipping turkey soup, that he’ll be able to use his mobile device sometime after he passes through Baker.

As for me, I’ll  head back into the dark desert night soon, and try to find my way back to Mojave Cabin, where I’ll sit with no phone or internet, and undoubtedly stumble and struggle to evoke, with mere words, a world I once traversed so easily, the world of the burning Mojave, where I never relied on an app to save my life, and never thought I’d be mocked by a wire scorpion daring me to write about it all.

In the dark Mojave Desert night, pen and paper in hand, and I’ll wait for the magic and mystery to settle in. I’ll wait for the smoky memories to clear, and I’ll look up to the stars, and I’ll try to find my way to write.


Story and photos by Ruth Nolan. Copyright (c) 2015 by Ruth Nolan.

Other Desert Mothers: Ruth Nolan at Riverside Art Museum by Lisa Henry

Tonight, Friday November 7, Salt+Spice will present author, educator, and environmental activist Ruth Nolan, who will launch her latest collection of poetry, Other Desert Mothers, at the Riverside Art Museum. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 6:30pm with the reading set to begin at 7:00pm.

Ruth Nolan knows more than a few things about the desert, and about motherhood. A native of the Inland Empire and a current resident of Palm Desert, Nolan has spent countless hours hiking, camping, writing, parenting, grandparenting and firefighting in the vast, dry landscapes of California’s deserts. Her new collection of poetry, Other Desert Mothers (Old Woman Mountains Press, 2014), is a meditation on her unique desert journey. The book will be released in November and Nolan will celebrate the publication with a reading and reception at Riverside Art Museum Friday November 7 at 6:30pm.

A long-time desert dweller, Nolan has experienced adolescence, motherhood, and now grandmotherhood in and around the Mojave Desert.

“My parents moved us to a very remote area of the Mojave Desert when I was 13, from Rialto, CA.” It was a difficult transition for Nolan. She readily admits, “I was in shock at the vast contrast between the Inland Empire and desert, but instantly smitten and blown away by the beauty and power of the desert. I’ve been pinned down by the desert, both literally and metaphorically, since then.”

As single mother and a professor of English and Creative Writing at College of the Desert, both Nolan’s personal identity and professional career have been forged in the vast and surreal landscape, which she describes as “my #1 geography.” This place is “a sort of complete dreamscape, an altered state that both inspires, elates, and intimidates me. I have only to step into the desert on a hike or start a road trip across its vast, empty roads, and I feel that sense of unbroken dreamscape again.”

Nolan has fully embraced her hometown as rich and fertile ground where she can write, study and teach. An avid desert advocate and conservationist, she lectures widely on literature of the desert, and has taught desert-based writing workshops for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park. Among her many notable publications are No Place for a Puritan (Heyday Books/Inlandia, 2009), an impressive anthology highlighting the diverse literature of California’s deserts, Orangelandia: The Literature of Inland Citrus (Inlandia, 2014) and New California Writing, 2011 (Heyday).

“For me, the Mojave hasn’t been a wasteland; nor, even as it’s been discovered by artists more recently as a highly desirable location for a more refined, esoteric aesthetic. The Mojave Desert is a free-flowing experience of consciousness and geography. It’s a place of life, a place of people—however far apart, a place of sustenance and nurturing and enlightenment.”

Lisa Henry teaches at San Bernardino Valley College and is founder of Salt+Spice, a community-based arts organization.

Alexa Mergen



In plexiglass pillboxes I collect samples of wind, align them
on spice shelves above the kitchen sink, a measure of my life.
The story goes I emerged in an Iowa blizzard. Snap
a chip of deep night, label: December 1967. DC in ’73. Into this box
set wet wind—summer thundershower. Augusts in Nevada. Dry
bluster off sand mark ’76 ’77, ’78 through ’84. I’m a teenager at Rehobeth, up
at dawn after bonfires and beer. Into this box a handful of Atlantic salt air
misted by porpoise exhalation. 1985. Berkeley fog bubbles the specimen label.
Wedding day, August 19, 1992. Forest fires scorch Volcano. A sooty sample.
Two years later we sail San Francisco Bay in a gale, scoop an armful of pulsing Pacific wind off the jib for my collection. Let’s include Kay’s final breath in ’97—it fell out as a sputter— and the bilious tempest of my brother who hollers stay away!
Label also whispered breeze of reconciliation.
Add delight’s gusts, desire’s zephyr, siroccos of ceaseless seeking. Doldrums. Then,
tickles of air on undersides of poppy petals. This a log of landscape felt as it touches other things. Everything a breath. All atmosphere cooled and warmed in layers.

The first month Alexa Mergen lived in Yucca Valley she learned how to respect rattlesnakes and scorpions and how to recognize a dust devil. She grew up in Washington, DC, making visits to family in the Great Basin and Mojave. She now lives in Sacramento. In addition to poetry, Alexa writes fiction and essays. Her favorite places are windy ones–mountaintops, deserts, and seashores.

Cynthia Anderson

The I-10

Born in 1897, a San Bernardino native son,
my grandfather lived to be 100. Late in life,
when we would take him out for a drive,
he would point to some shopping mall
off the I-10 and say, We used to hunt
rabbits there.

When he retired from title insurance,
he had a farm in Cherry Valley,
fruit trees and eggs. Then, in Yucaipa,
he looked after my grandmother
who hung on 22 years after a crippling
stroke, with a will to live she learned
as an only child in Randsburg,
where her father worked for the mines.

Time and again, I would drive down the coast,
pick up the I-10 in Santa Monica,
take it straight through the polluted heart
of L.A. to the hinterlands, find my way
to the Yucaipa house by memory,
never using a map, never thinking
about how much the freeway
had changed the land in its short life.

My grandfather spent his last days
in a convalescent hospital in Riverside.
He remembered when the palm trees
along on Magnolia Drive were planted,
recalled Sunday drives before the first
world war. He and my grandmother are buried
in Desert Lawn, hardly a resting place,
the I-10 a noisy witness to the end
of their lives and the world they knew.

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her award-winning poems have appeared in journals such as Askew, Dark Matter, Apercus Quarterly, Whale Road, Knot Magazine, and Origami Poems Project. She is the author of five collections—”In the Mojave,” “Desert Dweller,” “Mythic Rockscapes,” and “Shared Visions I” and “Shared Visions II.” She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens.