I get a package in the mail. I am heating soup in my mother’s house after getting off work. My work is to mud and sand drywall joints in the basement of a church. When I walk or itch my skin, gypsum dust falls from my clothes, expressing powdery streaks in the room’s light. I watch the streaks resist the room’s drafts. The air moves around them. They are like bridge piles. The room’s drafts are moving like worms. I don’t open the package. I keep it on the counter away from my hands, which are cracked and in their way bleeding.
I am no longer in my mother’s house. I am sitting on a concrete ledge looking at the city from above. Whenever I sit here I think I’m in California. The city looks like the Pacific Ocean, looks blue-sky orange surrounded by hills and cars and juniper shrubs. I can never close my eyes here, although everything is too bright. Fruit trees sift restlessly in the ambiguous weather, making that sound. The city like California doesn’t know how to mourn.
I have been coming to this ledge since before work began, since being a kid. The place doesn’t fit and contradicts itself. The ledge leads to other ledges somehow lower and divided by thin stretches of grass that can’t die, can’t brown. I have sat here on my hands, on my shoes, on unlit cigarettes, have sat here and wondered about the small and insignificant deaths of birds. What kills them is the bad air, I decided. What kills them is the sound of their feathers abrading the sky.
The package is next to me in my truck while I drive and for the first time I am calm by it. I am driving on an outskirt road. I am driving towards the landfill, the largest concentrated seagull population in the city. I’m not going to the landfill but it will pass by to the south. The windows are open. The heat is on low. I drive carefully over potholes. The truck’s shocks have been leaking their fluid for months, have been sick, have been asking for a change but I have not had the stomach to replace them.
The package smells like roadkill, like the salted winter roads coming into the new season. Smells like creosote at the train crossing. I turn off the engine, wait for the train to pass. 34000 gallons of sulfuric acid roll by creaking. April driving keeps me sane, I think and turn the engine back over as the last railcar passes. The engine is hot and idles slowly. The truck shakes on its axles, its injectors clicking open, closed, their sound, their persistence a part of the sky that drags me.
In the basement of the church where I work there is a picture of the lake leaned against a wall. The lake can be any color depending on the weather and the angle of the sun. In the picture the lake is yellow and at the horizon where it ends and is converted into atmosphere the color doesn’t break but continues upwards, concealing the distinction between the two planes. I pass the picture periodically while I work and sometimes think of it as another body. I work alone, without music. The church is old and produces its own noise. The noise of gurgling pipes, indicating bad plumbing. The noise of homosocial interaction. My boss wandering in the apartment above, his keys dangling on his belt, clattering. Imagining us fucking. His whistling. We are both guilty of talking to ourselves in this place.
The package is from Louisiana the swamp. It arrives dirty and with mold spores growing on one corner. This is how I know it’s from the swamp. When I lived there I only watched the sky. It seemed to move as if detaching itself from the rest of the country’s sky. When I mentioned this theory to a friend I was scorned, told not to talk about the country that way, in fact don’t mention it’s a country. I lived in a room missing its exterior wall and slept elevated to avoid the effects of possums and rain water coming in. I slept my head near the open transom. I could see the house below in my dreams, could hear termites taking it all away, little by little, their own interpretation of time. The swamp is thick like they say it is. It’s hard to swim there next to alligators, next to washing machines.
I drive past freight yards, past grazing cows, past a parking lot full of unused cop cars. I am no longer within the city limits and there are few traffic lights, few people here. I drive behind a semi-truck with New Hampshire plates, my hands dissociating from the wheel, my hands seeming to float there in the frame of the windshield, unaffected by the cold wind just beyond them. I blow on them with the breath in my lungs. My hands are dry. I spit on them. The semi-truck kicks road moisture from beneath its double-stacked wheels, glossing the windshield. My body remains dry.
I am safe between planes. I am regulated by their bearing down in me, by the textures and temperatures of light passed through them, by their interaction with the air that enters and moves me. I am particularly fond of heat and follow it into cars, into basins, into the gratification of plumbing: hot faucets, bathroom sinks.
In school I held my hands beneath hot water flowing hard. The bathrooms were white and eager basins. The sinks hung like sea cliffs off their walls. My hands incurred the debt of falling water. I forced them there in the heat and they became inflamed. I discovered in myself a dislocated stream. My body continued to define the precepts of my desire. Undone, undone, undone. I closed my eyes when the water’s heat became unbearable. In the darkness beyond unbearable I imagined a fetid wash.
There are several streams and rivers that run from the mountains, through the city, to the lake. The lake is like a desert and also like a sea. It is terminal, which is to say it is a place where all water ceases to flow. There are no outlets to the ocean except through the sky. It is salty and it brines the rivers and birds. To swim there is to float. The lake has been evaporating for 15000 years.
I arrive in the middle of the day. The sky is white and moves like milk. The package is tawny yellow and floats like pollen in the pale context of this place. I can’t remember the eastern city. I can’t remember the taste of microwaved soup, its burnt edge, its liquid anatomy. I am turgid but thirsty, my body pushing salt through my skin. The package is sitting on the passenger seat of my truck and I cannot remember why I brought it here. I cannot remember where I wanted it to go.
In lieu of memory, lithology: I dig holes in the relict earth.
6’’ diameter, 5’’ deep. The excavated ground is hard and clumpy, crystal, is salt. Its arid dust floats up then dives, settling elsewhere. I dig deep with my hands. Salt fills the cracks in my skin, producing an archive of acute but trivial pains. My hands are trowels. My hands are chalky white. The ground is endless and flat.
Wider, shallower. The edge collapses at every encounter with my skin, eventually opening to expose the body of a bird. A bone and blistered infrastructure outlines the parts of a body: spine, ribcage, skull. Its featherless wings lie like cathedrals in the saline sprawl. I spit on them from above. My mucous runs like silver paint over the bird’s desiccated bones, suffocating and nourishing them in the same movement. I spit again, this time onto the ground. I watch the earth ingest it. I watch it fall. I am alive amidst the noise of a vast evacuation. I think: Somewhere there is a verdant wind that blows.
There is a smokestack beside the lake that has been releasing sulfur dioxide into the air for 45 years. I have watched it my entire life and have always known it to produce the sky. The sky is yellow and engineers a certain cadence of breath. Living near the smokestack is like living near a volcano. Albuterol was the first drug I abused. When I was ten I sprayed it down my throat to produce that certain shake, a whole body event. I have relied on my lungs less and less. The smokestack is constructed of 26000 cubic yards of concrete. I want to lick its walls. I want to feel it pull the water from my tongue. Concrete tastes like gypsum dust, like willow bark, like albuterol.
The package is restless on the seat of my truck. The sky’s heat is low. Briefly, I remember why I came here: to bury the contents of this package, to preserve them here in the non-place of planes. The sky becomes the ground, color a misnomer for sound. I listen for the moment where the air breaks down. I want to bury things there, in the safety that light unsees. It is the concussive speech of horizons. It is edge play. It is the dialect of living in what remains of a prehistoric sea.
I cannot close my eyes, although the world is too bright. I empty the contents of the package onto the ground. There are thousands of mosquitoes here, finding blood where they can. My body offers refuge, an expansive vein of iron for their feeding. I kill dozens in my fists, feeling neither lack nor strength, and when I open my hands they are stained red. My blood is contested. Parts of me are shuttled out to inaccessible islands. Other parts are pressed back into my skin. I look at the objects I have carried here. They are motionless and quiet.
Memory evaporates like water. I am kneeling on the unnourished ground.
3 feet wide, 3 feet deep.
An unsettling: white dust like vapor in the air: the evaporation of the earth.
Beyond me, the lake can’t hold its edge.
Beyond me and beside me, the sky.
To cover these objects.
To unfold this earth.
Where there used to be an ocean.
To know this is to release my held breath.
Jo Gosh loves to clean the drain of the kitchen sink. Especially when the sink is full of warm dish water and they cannot see beyond the murky surface. It is nice when the water is up to their forearm and leaves a greasy ring. They currently live in Tucson, AZ.