Guest Post, Rachel Stiff: What’s up with the Sky?

Rachel Stiff bio pictureIn Los Angeles, California the air has a certain quality to it. Light behaves differently here as well. Smog and moisture pair up each day in different quantities to determine the forecast. Sidewalks, concrete walls and highway overpasses show sign of human presence. Graffiti is a constant companion. The city is home to the largest homeless population in the United States. Watch out for scatological debris. Beautiful flowers and thick monstrous foliage line the interstate. From behind the steering wheel of a car, a traffic jam allows for much time viewing the ditch and searching for inner stillness.

One summer, I was granted an artist residency in Chinatown. This area is known as DTLA or Downtown Los Angeles. Miles of industrial buildings loom sleepily–warehouses of decommissioned factories begging for the downtown artist movement to breathe life back into them. After the three-month long residency was over, I decided to stay in L.A. Wanting to make a little history for myself, I sought exhibitions. Some of them hard earned, while others came as invitation.

I kept my studio downtown, but found a job on the Westside in Venice. The commute after work was a nightmare, and I was often too tired to make it happen. Day to day logistics can be tough in a city this size where almost everyone has a car and must use it. Not having much experience with big cities, I was in awe at the enormous population and constant activity. There is immeasurable human history compressed between seemingly endless layers of buildings, landforms, plants, cars and interstate systems. I was enjoying new friends and nurturing connections, but couldn’t shake the feeling of being caged in.

What's Up With The Sky, Painting by Rachel StiffCommuting to Las Vegas nearly once a month, I enjoyed watching the city limits gradually give way to barren desert. It was a shift in thinking; a different state of mind. City life with its complex relationship to the natural world is swept up into the strict order of a new eco-system. The austere and beautiful design of the Mojave Desert appealed to me. When returning to L.A., an omnipresent heavy smog can be observed, looming eerily beyond the San Bernardino Mountains. Around this time, I had a breakthrough in the studio. As with any new movement comes uncertainty. ‘What’s up with the Sky?’ has proven successful on levels both aesthetic and as a true representation of my love-hate relationship with Western mega-cities.

Guest Blog Post, Matthew Gavin Frank: Memories of Arizona as Filtered Through Some Theories on the Sonoran Hot Dog

Matthew FrankI’ve been thinking about spice.  As vine, as flower.  As catastrophe in the mouth.  As some kind of biological confusion.  The duping of the blood, the forcing of it to the tops of us.  The feeling faint, the feeling amorous.  The disintegration of the tongue, even though it’s all we can do to keep from kissing anything that moves.  Even the Kokopelli tablecloth in our dining room.  The window’s open.  It’s unseasonably warm.  I had too much red chile sauce on my Sonoran Hot Dog this morning.

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This is Arizona and the saguaros are wilting; Arizona, where the hot dog shuns the boiling, demands the comal.  In this: 30 horrible jokes about how it’s a dry heat.

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Here, in the Sonoran Hot Dog, everything assimilates: cotija cheese to onion, red chile to mayonnaise, tomatillo to tomato. This is what we tell ourselves.

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In Hermosillo, the Yaqui Indians dance dances named after the coyote.  In Phoenix, we allow even our hot dogs to hurt us.

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There’s a hunchbacked flute player on my tablecloth, playing to my fertility.  I wonder what this has to do with my longing for ketchup and mustard.

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I’m keeping from kissing the tablecloth.  From taking it into my mouth.  Tablecloth as spice blotter, as shroud.  As if, post-spice, the tongue is grieving.  Sonoran hot dog as a blurring of borders.  As both brain and heart.  As American as manzana pie.   As the pig graffiti’d in chili-cheese.  I will say nothing of the encased, or defaced.  It’s too hot to speak about the heat.

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In Hermosillo, you can top your Sonoran Hot Dog with pineapple, with avocado, with chorizo, with poblano crema.  In Arizona, you can perfume your neck with saguaro flower essence, in order to, according to Sonoran Alchemy (Let the Essence of the Desolate Uncover the Essence of You ™), “balance your masculine and feminine attributes… help in working through power struggles with parental or authority figures… and, like a true father, help us see how we can help ourselves,” while you eat your Sonoran Hot Dog.

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I help myself to too much red chile.  You blow hot air over my nape.  If you blow hot air over my nape, why do I shiver?

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The Sonoran Hot Dog as all confusions of the body.

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The tongue as false father, the Sonoran Hot Dog as sexually confused.  The saguaro is braced to praise or punish, hands on its hips, hands in the air.  It calls penis, penis, penis through the window.  I’m not sure if this is ridicule, or advice.

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My mouth hurts.  I want to kiss.  It’s hot, and I’m in the Sonoran, and there are no yellow leaves here, nothing to remind me of ketchup, mustard, any less spicy sauce.  If there were yellow leaves here, every yellow leaf but three would have fallen from the maple in the backyard.  This big-ass eyelet of yellow on the lawn, the tree itself the stick jammed into the iris—precisely the shit they warned us about at recess all those years ago, back when I lived in the Midwest.  Ronald Jarrell lost an eye that year.  Lucio Aguilar too.  Mr. Basofin, the principal, that winter banned snowball fighting.  We all stood around, whistling, holding our snow.  Hot dogs holding their mysteries in the casing, the chile confusing the mouth—mystery eats mystery.  I can’t make sense of these things.  Can’t tell how blindness informs assimilation.  Can’t tell what depth perception has to do with the Sonoran Hot Dog—the eating of it from the top down.  And: Open windows, yellow leaves, a little rain, spice?  The maple is a cactus.  The snow, red dust.  And lawn?!  If it rains here, we have to double up on the most surprised of our vowels.  The hot dog is meant to be eaten horizontally, you tell me, but I’m not sure how you know this.  But we know this: When it rains here, we call it monsoon. 

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The heat outside as authority figure, as sheriff.  The heat in my mouth as my true father.  Outside, the brush dances in the wind, and some wild canine tears the throat of the javelina.  Moaning pigs communing with other moaning pigs.  Each moving closer to the bun.

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The brush as lit from the inside.  The lovely creosote as creosote burning.

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The Sonoran Hot Dog as stereotype made dangerous.  As the sort of communion that makes us scream before accepting…

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Hydrochlorofluorocarbons dripping from the walls like malarial perspiration, we eat our dressed-up hot dogs in the shuddering, weakening A/C.  The spice beats in our temples like a machine gun.

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In spice, a confusion of identity.  How, when the sun burns us, we feel cold.

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Here, in this kind of heat—no trees—even the hot dog needs a costume.

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The hot dog as inappropriate chills, as trying so hard to contain its violence.  As a racist sheriff in need of window-dressing.  As a demand for papers.  As tortured criminal, red chile sauce as his monster mask.

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In the summer of 2005, Phoenix decided to ice its 120-degree cake with a pair of simultaneously-operating serial killers: The Baseline Killer (or Baseline Rapist, so named for his prowling of Baseline Road, who escalated his criminal activity from robbing at gunpoint a Little Caesar’s Pizzeria to murder, and who disguised himself in a Frankenstein mask, or as a homeless man, and raped his targets before shooting them in the head) and the Serial Sniper (or Serial Shooter—who later turned out to be two men, or shooters—who began blowing away dogs and horses before going randomly after human pedestrians, especially those on bicycles, a vehicle which, at the time, served as my primary mode of transportation to and from work at Arizona State University).  My wife would wring her hands until I came home from talking with other nerds in a cinderblock classroom about the poetics of space.  The entire city was gripped in this fist of fear, this cult of anxiety about setting foot outdoors into the be-pricked and be-bulletted heatwave, the communion with Son of Sam a pale conferva indeed.

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The spice shooting the hot dogs from our mouths.  This landscape of sand as a neat trick.  Indeed.

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Now, I can’t tell if it’s the spice that invades the hot dog, or the hot dog that invades the spice.  Can’t tell creosote from algae, the plant from the meat.

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Now, I can’t tell if it’s the spice that’s the flower/vine, or the hot dog.  Which has the longer stem.  In what part of us, it is planted.

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Here, the kudzu uses other plants as its grow-base in order to invest the least amount of energy in reaching the sunlight.  Here, the kudzu is known as an “invasive exotic.”

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Here, for the light, the plants mask themselves in other plants.  Here, too much light yields the burning, and the burning begins with the smoke.

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Mascara means “mask,” or, literally, “more face.”  During early carnivals, behind a mask, one could be who one wanted, do anything one wanted (from illicit sexual escapades to murder), and would not be held liable.  In the mask, is the pardon.

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The Sonoron Hot Dog is not liable for its spice.

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Disguise means “off-style.”  Costume means “custom.”  These are meant to be opposites.  Linguistically-speaking, we mask our costumes in disguises.

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Something outside of our window is burning.  On your breath, something so much more than the hot dog.  You’re hot, and confused, so you pull the blanket around you.   In this is confused theory, and a spicy mouth craves the sort of water that will not cool it down.

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The bun as more efficient cooling tool.  Your breath as inadequate to uprooting the saguaro.

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Camouflage means “puff of smoke” or “to blow smoke in someone’s face.”  No one knows where Sonora comes from.  Its origins are merely theoretical.  Some feel it’s the Yaqui pronunciation of señora (in response to an image of Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, or Our Lady of Anguish).  Others feel it’s a Spanish mispronunciation of the Yaqui term sonot, or natural water well.  Like Water to Anguish, each theory is inadequate to the other.

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In home, in home, in home is ownership.  In ownership, an assertion of dominance.  Dominance sweet dominance.

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So, we dig beneath the toppings to find a sense of home, the home being closest to the bread.  The bread as tablecloth as spice blotter as the soaking of one thing into another thing.  The awful stain into the purity of the napkin.  This is also what we tell ourselves.  The home as the familiar hot dog, the familiar as the familial, the home as the thing we, be-masked, stole for ourselves.  Words like destiny and birthright confused as whether to be the blotter or the blotted, the costumes, or the disguises.

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So, we praise, we punish, we rise like the vines:

At the Phoenix Wells Fargo, I fill out a deposit slip for $165.00.   A young mother in a green neoprene kerchief (Dragonfly Salon is just around the corner) walks up the six steps from Home Mortgage into the bank lobby.  She’s out of sight of the tellers, and the personal bankers, as usual, are away from their desks.  She drags her daughter, seven-years-old at the most, by the sleeve of the girl’s pink windbreaker.  The girl’s hood is up.  It’s 114-degrees outside and the little girl’s hood is up.  Tendrils of blonde hair snake from beneath it.  By the way they hold their mouths, I can tell they’ve had an argument—the little girl acting up in front of the loan officer.  A pink mylar foil balloon—a gecko—is tied to the girl’s right wrist with a length of scrolled green ribbon.  The mother carries an obese white purse, stops at the landing.  The tellers can’t see her.  I sign my deposit slip and stand where I am.  The mother opens her purse and removes a wooden pepper mill as long as my forearm.  The little girl knows, frowns.  She lifts her chin, sticks out her tongue.  The mother raises the bottom of the pepper mill to the girl’s mouth, completes eight twists and the eight twists of ground pepper collect into a pile on the girl’s tongue.  The girl closes her mouth, tightens her lips.  Is silent.  The deposit slip is getting wet in my palm.  The ink is beginning to run.  Mother and daughter walk to an open teller window, and the mother chats to the teller—a young man in a white shirt, red tie—about the heat.  They laugh.  The daughter is too short to see the teller.  The teller sees the mother standing next to the gecko.  The daughter’s face becomes more and more red.  Her eyes close.  She says nothing.  Makes no sound.  No cough or sneeze.  Not a whimper.  Her feet begin to dance on the tile as if she has to go to the bathroom.  The sleeves of her windbreaker swish so quietly against the torso, as if shushing all of us.  The gecko begins to shake.  After four minutes, the mother yanks the daughter, still tight-lipped, by the arm.  I imagine the popping sound of her shoulder dislocating, a half-dollar of bone jumping from the pink collar.  The balloon failing.  The pain and its wonderful release.  The spitting of the pepper.  The scream.  They open the door to the sidewalk.  Silent.  The weather storms inside.  Defeats the A/C.  They turn the corner.  I watch a lone Fry’s shopping cart push itself up the street.  I’ve never been good at these things.  At divining the rubric necessary to decide what they are.  I have trouble distinguishing the cacti from the redwoods.  I’ve been lying again.  I don’t live in Arizona anymore.  Now, I live in Michigan.  At my neck, I can’t tell if that’s your breath, or the desert, or the snow.

 

 

 

Lights, Camera, Action…the great Superstition journey.

Last weekend, I lived a microcosm of the Great American Journey, sitting in the passenger seat of a car as it sped through the vast desert, cruising along the highways. On such a drive, the mind begins to wander and ramble; actual turns and direction-seeking are infrequent. You find yourself in tune with the clear repetition of lines on the road; yellow black curves and dashes. There are hours to just watch the road and saguaros pass by, and in that trek things begin to fall into place.

I thought it was going to be a brief vacation, a break away from all of this stress and academia. Yet, in the midst of this desert, a familiar landmark filled my horizon.

The Superstition Mountain Range loomed in the distance.

Well, I thought to myself, it’s watching over me. I can zoom throughout any desert, across any roads and travel forever, but I’ll never be able to escape myself. My duties, my works and so forth, will always be a part of me. The rest of the weekend was spent in Eden, and was likewise beautiful.

And now we find ourselves all facing down the inescapable beauty of those mountains.

Our release date is urgent and soon. Our last reading was last night, featuring undergraduate creative writing students and a beautiful Fiesta Veggie Strata featuring produce from our allies, the Poly Harvest CSA.

Likewise, you might see on the side of this page that our Blogroll has been updated with links to other journals. The time for change and release is now. We are ready for you, readers. Are you ready for Superstition Review?