Words from an old conversation are caught up in my blood. Black hooks and prongs stamp a submerged layer of my skin into a humming mantle. I think I cannot have it out without clawing myself open. I don’t know what I’d find, but I shiver like there is an old man in me, right below the surface. If I bled myself he would seep out and dry onto paper his real voice, when, every so often, I feel him struggling to whisper through my skin an ink wash of some time out of sorts.

What came out was that you never saw hair on Jacky’s chest but in the late afternoon sun, when you last saw him in daylight, standing by his car in the service station parking lot, the sun painting his edges white and the down on his chest shimmering like its own worried breeze. Jacky’s car had coasted in disgrace, alighting two more held breaths in Barstow amidst the drift of folks who looked like they had been thrown into a plate window. Men with fossilized comb marks in their hair stood against walls in the shade with waxy hopefulness from greasy night sweats that flash dried on their skin every sunrise.

Jacky took a room in the stark motel beyond the parking lot. Leaving you there, he went back to the road and evaporated in the sun. You looked into the grasses erect in the cracks of the dry swimming pool and pulled tight the oil cloth curtains the way that house at the edge of a brushfire silently lingered. Two curtains didn’t block out the light like one could. In their joint the white sun glow faded to brown. A real painting hung over the shared nightstand showed a monastic seashore; green light poached a wave lapped high by an offshore breeze. In a second hand a crude swimmer was drawn out of scale with a marker. A shark fin and face bobbed, inscribed with ink pen beyond the breakers. In motel after motel, days after nights, some vestigial transgression haunted your passages. Missing crucial history you let yourself submerge into the oceanic lamplight.

You awoke in the dim room, spun between the two beds like a crime scene. Jacky sat in the vinyl chair under the window with his hair in his fingers and his thumbs in his ears. His shoulders, ringed by the stretched out neck of his tee shirt, were purple from the sun.

Separated by dawn Jacky hurried down the far open staircase through the courtyard wall and you spiraled into the shower compartment to wait for him. Under plastic rosettes swam mirrored wall panels reproducing pink marbled plastic surfaces like his tongue across the roof of your mouth. The bathroom hurtled beneath the days. Jacky flickered in and out. Each time he returned a sediment encrusted his skin. The sun blew ripples of flesh and thick horny swaths the color of sausage casing over his body. You two prodded his shell quietly confusing his skin with reflections of the peeling ceiling in the panoply of mirrors.

Jacky smelled like different things or scenarios when you faced him in the bathroom, him sitting in the sink, you leaning against the wall, the back of his head in the mirror behind him, and your face over his shoulder, then his face in the mirrored wall behind you, and on and on: the scent of pomade, leather soles, wet denim, a discussion beneath a street light, the desert dust on the elbows of a chino shirt, engine grease, money and sweat. He didn’t speak. A conversation in Amarillo in the parked car hung across your skin in the voice of a vibration yet to reverberate back to the ear, then sounds of motel parking lot air sucking through windows like burning salt.

Even as they changed along their paths, your lives froze when they became concentric. They became hard to figure apart. You ran a razor over your chest so the smooth skin prickling beneath the gauzy tee shirt made you feel worn, sick and weak. You felt like a fraud when he was with you. The burden you placed on him to construct your deliverance outward from Salina had begun to ink those precious obsidian imprints that you saw in his eyes when he lost himself in the mirror endless. To keep silent you flayed sheets of wrinkled skin from him. It made a static sound as it pulled away from whatever lay beneath. The two of you were separate people falling at the same rate. At an inevitable point, relationships that were to diverge met an initial minute catastrophe. The two of you wouldn’t without transition awake in blank white space. It began when he drew you out of the room, lighter than a recollection. His eyes were black stones and he hobbled with his tight skin and you both got in the running car. A low green cloud of light wended around the motel buildings and the service station from the dark. In silhouette his lips were pulled over his teeth and smoothness where his nose had been. As the night air painted the car out of the town’s light you rolled down the window to dry cold that focused the haze from your eyes. Crystal black mountains fainted under luminous black sky. The glow from the console just dipped Jacky’s fingertips on the steering wheel in its green meniscus. You sat back out of the light. When you stepped out of the car you were shoeless in the gravel and the wind gently blew your loose clothes away from your body, the costume and setting of a child’s night trauma.

We aren’t going to Los Angeles.

You shivered as if you had slipped through your own skin like a last breath into the desert, a long leaking kiss over the weeks or months stalled out in Barstow. You and he faced the dark on the hood of his car. Jacky’s voice within slurping breaths whispered simple names into a testament for the memories of yours that he housed. It grew louder by indivisibly small increments as he slowly mouthed airy tendrils and your name, J, a hesitant hooked filament from a closed flower. The name was emptily alien, an epiklesis that would beckon something other than a person, the cool lunar breeze and the summer fog of stars. Jacky’s voice echoed back to you the thought you just had, the chill you just stifled, from the scallops of marble chasms. The car rose gently as he staggered away.

When you spotted a faint sand figure against phosphorescent sand cascade you followed. He crested a dune and disappeared. From where you stumbled to its peak, shallow depressions in the sand where he tumbled had already filled with the moaning sand. You ran down in lunar bounds. At the base of the dune Jacky breathed barely in dry creaks. The Milky Way shone in his dry eyes like a foggy stain. Disrupted sand still flowing down the leeward slope pooled around you both and covered Jacky’s chest and legs and flowed around his face and into his mouth and nose. It spouts weakly from his dying geysers. He is gone and you are waist deep. You extricate yourself and smooth the grave with your palm and steal his red car from the dust. You stop where you can just breathe, in Tonopah at a dry service station, and look on a state road map pinned behind plastic near the road for some place hidden to camp. An old boy leaning on a bollard points you to some public land off the highway. You roll down the windows on the farm roads. You pitch Jacky’s dome tent right next to his car.

The sun goes down unceremoniously. You don’t have a fire or dinner. Darkness in a tent is doubly dark. Across the field you hear men talking without lights in the scrub, then drums and a fire glow arise. You lie awake. You roll out of the tent and put on his boots filled with sand, press the tent in a pile in his trunk, and roll with the headlights off until you reach the main road and then even a bit longer, until you see the first oncoming headlights far off.

For one hundred fifty blinking miles you drive through sleep to a tidy motel in Green River filled with brown lamplight and stars. Planets hang blue in pairs over the dark parking lot. You hold the phone against your head and think of calling his number in Salina and of wanting to speak aloud. Enveloped by the room you fall into the new distance from him, greater than the immediate miles of darkness you had unspooled, and sleep with your feet on the wall.

You pull to the oil cloth curtains at dawn. Regardless of the solid curtains and doubted lamps, it is too bright and you feel your white eyes on display. You lie on the floor underneath the table, hold its wood cabriole feet, and look beneath the bed. There is a note stuck on the carpet that reads blood stains. For hours you read more notes around the room describing the things they are stuck to. Without eating or seeing the sky, you become impregnated with a swelling grog in the back of all of your senses: the back of your throat, the back of your eyes, the inside of your skin. Night wakes you and you step into the arcade. You dial Jacky’s number from a payphone in a cloud of white light. A lantern hung from the wall yellows your hands. A different voice speaks. It has a southern accent; it sounds tired and ceramic, from a room full of hard surfaces, and narcotic, like the mouth and lips are gauze, all in one word.

Yes? And you hang up. You buy a bag of corn tortilla chips and a jug of orange juice and leave them in the room.

Beyond the row of empty parking spaces along the arcade a detached building with more rooms is set apart by a stretch of sand. It smells like paint and carpet. A few lights with red dimpled glass shades are on in the double breasted hallways, like a pizza parlor dipped in night’s blood, and below the peephole of each door a note is stuck the same as those in your room. Each lists what is missing from the room. You read down the hallway piecing together a room’s silhouette from its shortcomings. You never touch your bedside table or turn on the television, but a blankness where they belonged would have ached like a birth defect. You wonder what is missing from your room while you get slowly sick on tortilla chips and orange juice.

In the morning you drive through Colorado, held by mountains.

You drive through the tabletop of the country. In Kansas, with Salina throbbing around an empty center, you smell his memories sweetly mummified in the empty apartment you two ran from. In a flimsy pact with the left lane of the highway, you leave it all behind, and stop at dusk far off the highway to camp. The reservoir in the state park is quiet. Two girls are there with a tent already pitched. One holds a guitar but doesn’t play it. They are about fifty feet from his car and look small. Wind gathering into a mass fills the trees and reservoir and hauls over the ground beneath the trees like a tide rushing. You cook a can of pinto beans in sauce directly on the camp stove in the shelter of the open car door. One of the girls asked you to join them for dinner. You decline and crawl into his tent. It is dark and the wind stalks the tent. Wind in the dark, they are inseparable then. The tent leans until its surfaces touch you in his sleeping bag. Every time you and he camped in the cold he told you about camping Memphis Lake outside of Lincoln, in the snow, and he slept in his underwear so that when he got up in the morning and put on his clothes he would have the warmth to look forward to.

Whoever told you to do that just wanted to see you in your underwear. He thought he would die. The zipper didn’t work on the sleeping bag. It still doesn’t.
Kansas is the center of the universe that everything swirls out of before contracting back into it. You feel it being drawn into the earth. When the wind stops the moonlight is drawn down and you drive beneath it into eastern Missouri and morning sleep in a hot motel room with dead flies on the pillow. You awake in late afternoon and drive one thousand miles as it all falls away behind you.

In Atlanta all of the beige things look familiar. They make you look familiar. You take an efficiency room and stay inside during the day with no treatments on the windows watching people come and go. A man is beaten with a stick. You watch the sky with suspicion from the fifth floor. The sound of blood fills the room. A clammy motel grog, whose pathology is the single room, medicating any sunlight that happens into the apartment swells your eye sockets like ice slowly splitting your skull open.

On the far side of flight’s arc you take a job on the housekeeping staff at the hollow hung whale of a hotel downtown. Each midmorning you are in a wide basement hallway lined with doors and elevators at either end. The elevators fit one person and one cart stocked with soap, towels, sheets, newspapers, pens, and blank stationery. You retrieve a cart from a painted berth scuffed to a blur on the smooth floor and ascend. An entire wall of doors forty stories high is visible from every door on opposing sides of the atrium. Echoes of groups in the lobby hum the buried song of sand. Women in taupe chino dresses are stationed in degrees of foreshortening at their carts. Housekeeping, tinkles in an amusical glossolaliac chorus followed by the opening of doors seen and unseen. You hesitantly chime in and open a door.

With sheer curtains drawn the room is untethered by views and filled with sun like packed cotton. You’re jobbed with puzzling the human imperfections out of each identical room. The embalmed juxtapositions you find as you straighten the disarray are near-ends of acts you halt before they can fester into consummation: a bed swirled in the vortex of failed sleep aid insomnia; rafts of hair across the vanity counter into the sink from solitary dreams of woolen forest men; the smell of yellow skin and greasy cardboard; a bundle of furniture tracks to a toxoplasmotic bunker amassed against the immovable bedstead; in the daylight and after the days all manners of that man’s black stains, perfectly beneath rutted furniture, still, flat and deep in an ashtray, and a sticky lamination awash across a bathroom floor in which you can see your face as you strigil it into a bucket. It is even and impossibly undisturbed. Footsteps flooded and withdrew in the thin uncollected hemophilia of it. This black bloodletting made space in his body to feel his self move within himself, for solid thoughts to float between his skin and flesh. That much blackness poured out of one man would leave no man, but a beautifully fragile shell that could receive any man.

You are released from duty like an awakening newborn. It is a consciousness without antecedent. It is part of a continuum only by the familiarity of your body and the familiarity of the lost feeling, a familiar amnesia, but you emerge from the blackout only long enough to find yourself pacing a circle in your room.

In the nights catching up with these days you collect the hearing aid and retirement information arriving in the mail. You start dressing like a senior citizen. It is a disguise to force your refrigerated flesh to recognize the aged thoughts behind your skin. There is nothing enduringly human in your experiences. You layer clothes over the chino suit for your shift on a dim winter morning: longjohns, flannels, sweaters, cowls, mufflers, gloves, a wide soft hat. You walk like a pill in a bottle. In an empty plaza the gentleness of rattling dry leaves telegraphs the sound of pollarded plane trees by the Salina Public Library in breeze. One-footed pigeons swell and stumble across the bricks.

In the basement passage a woman in a taupe chino dress with her hair tightly pinned to the back of her head leans with her palms flat against the block wall behind her. The paint absorbs fluorescent light. Her flat eyes track you like those of a haunted portrait. A wisp of air from the slot between the elevator doors hisses as the elevator shuttles past and is inhaled in the vacuum it leaves. Through a side door you step onto the street and make your way around the block into the belly of the hotel. Few people scattered there. You smell rain and coffee and cold air with ozone. In the divided nap of the carpet footsteps walking across a dry grass plain to a car as a thunderstorm sweeps across the highway. Black. Grey blood pulp flows through your chest out of your head and immediately the lobby dissolves into a drowsy salon of tingling black faces.

From some nowhere inside you visions slowly arise in pastel petals wreathing your eyes. Wallowing distant squealing lances pin through your stuffed ears escalating as voices and sounds break through. Viscous breath burbles from your crystalline figure being trundled through the lobby to the service elevator. The wheels of the gurney are exact and silent.

The hospital is beyond a yard where spinal patients in the day lay immobilized on wheeled beds in the sun to whiten the dustiness of their eyes. You sink into the mattress in a dim windowless cell of the emergency room. Morphine is administered directly into your IV port. On its warm wave you wash back to just beneath the surface. You feel nausea rising then your teeth loosen and blood flows fully around them, covered in nerves and pulsing, as it warms your mouth. Immediately next to you from out of brown pillowy shadows a man’s hand toweled at the corners of your mouth and his face, an archipelago of features partly arisen from the thick old coffee of the dark, was traced by the aqueous light of the equipment. The features could have belonged to separate faces, each in the same place at different times. His face diminished into darkness as if it was you that sank. Oily morphine flumes tingled out of you in pricks of oxygen. You were let loose to a sagging dawn in hospital issued booties carrying your clothes in a drawstring bag.

It was terrifying in a silent way, like awaking in an open grave on a hillside, to open the apartment door in daylight having not had a night to deliver you. Slow convulsions of breath arose as if blown from a smaller man inside who came closer and closer to the skin without surfacing. From the moment you collapsed, the chaotic aftermath that slowly escalated and awakened about you only asymptotically approached its previous fullness. After some hours in the hallway there footsteps slid upon silence. A fingertip traced the doorknob inside the apartment. You feared that submerged face leering at your door. His vacant stare might have convinced you that you hadn’t returned fully from the syncopic hinge, so you escaped on foot back to the hotel wearing all of your clothes and hospital booties under your shoes.

In the unending days you found spots to linger in the lobby where clouds of visitors parted around you. The flow of people rang the passage of time, not as they moved, but as they became new people who wore the carpet smooth between ballrooms. After a final confluence into a broad low ceilinged panorama, each group, a species of time, ticked out of the register followed by the low breath of concrete and the emptiness of light falling on carpet. In their intermittent absence the ghost of their trail lingered in a stain of white shirts in the air.

A face shimmered out of a medical convention: a man with black spots in the corner of his eyes. Until you met him, a man’s face was a talisman that took the place of his entirety. Between undetected glimpses you passed through time like melting fat in the sand, less your initial form each day, but cooling into intermediate attempts at the human form as you waited to see him again. But all the days invested in recalling that face and its power to change you unraveled when it did not reproduce its dreamt-of charms at your request, or the anguish to which it was meant to be the cure persisted even in its presence.

You took to following him when he broke loose of a group. From no point in the continuum of chambers and halls could you see the sunlight. The public elevators smelled of disinfectant. Several hotels were connected by interior passageways and bridges unrelated to the city below. Paths that felt straight teased you by veering imperceptibly. You discovered and located all of the places he went, weaving a net of routes from one to another but that precious geography was destroyed when you doubled-back to a spot where you knew he would end up, but wasn’t. You found yourself in spots separated from him by only short distances with no way to get from one to the other without retreating to a far earlier landmark. You continued to circle.

So many secret places existed in each transposition of the chase. Bricks fell loose; words on signs were misprinted. Within the eerie glisten of your skin’s temporary adhesive you stumbled into chance’s unused cells. Like the space behind a waterfall, an electric verdant odor filled a subbasement space not much taller than the man erect but slouched inside, oily beneath unzipped coveralls and a soft brown hat. He tasted the air with his eyes. A cool gelatinousness to the thickness of his flesh in that moment placed you in front of a dated studio photograph of aspic molded salad in the dubious lighting of some childhood’s brown kitchen. Black liquid of immovable viscosity doubled beneath him. As his pupils crossed yours in interlocking tunnels connecting soot-stained catacomb territories, the purity of satanic introversion opened to you like a warm heaving throat inhaling the fog that was your body’s material. When they passed the terror again of corporeality burned through your trance.

In a cloud of tottering tittering housekeepers breathing the air asqueak you stumbled away through long corridors divided without trail or recollection to grasp. You were high in the hotel again, through a spatial warp like a coin-operated billiards table, and sat in a vending alcove unable to move from the skinless, magnetized posture that trussed your limbs.

Only in the shifting identification of each moment was there something greater behind and lesser ahead. The flexibility of memory could be seen as the crowning attribute of your life only if it was kept in motion, and only from a distance, and assuming it had a constant center. From a crouch of a fire stair John entered the lobby like a paste extruded into ajar coveralls with paste still for hair and circled a collection of too large empty tables the color and texture of souse. Daily immemorial and onward daily he danced toward your cosmically contracting radius on which you sat at a table by the wall that, in repeated ellipsis, was dotted with telephones along its entire length. The mysterious dark planet of your own cloaked innards shared, in its overwhelming struggle against clawing yourself open for them once to glisten like your damp eye in the light, the latent desire to pick up a telephone after months of mute shallow breathing. You indulged yourself with the device nearest your chair which you drew to your ear. As you breathed into it John looked across the room and its empty flat of fatty flat tables. Four short tones, or one echoing, like the yawn of air being pressed out of a boot, from a distant receiver, uncradled to a familiar voice, which all telephoned voices became, demanded in a brisk but longing cadence, Who is there with you?

John walked toward you with the immutable corporeality of a cat walking his back legs toward the front until he is seated, without asking, at the table. His knees touch yours.

You cleaned rooms here,
Or you were here in the hospital a while back, one.
Yes, both.
Are you feeling better?
Bit by bit. But the last step…
But tell me… a silence, you feel…
See two worlds at once, or see this one from two different vantage points, and…
You are…
Coasting closer and closer toward the horizon, but…
You know you…
Won’t be able to breach it…
Because you…
Know the point where it began, but not whether…
Went downward or upward.
Death Valley.
Where you…
Left him to die.
Need to know…
Which side of the horizon you are on. His eyes black again. You have to prove it to yourself.
Beneath the black ocean you swam toward the scent of the buoyant sky, the moon or pale, and with your lungs collapsing into the tightest curls of diminishing breaths, you touched the bottom: racing in his rust car west in night.
How will we find him?
Look for the darkness you remember that night?
I can’t remember a particular darkness.

The lights of Las Vegas like knives in the side view mirror pulled out of your black flesh into brown breath and you two were in the flying darkness buttressed by the last house in the sprawl, draining itself away in the paws of desperate coyotes. Still hours before sunrise, headlights began to linger but never arrive.

You’ll see. Nothing out here. Then it will be over. You’ll see. Then we will keep going. Without what you remember.

Your hip was sore. Darkness to darkness, no light: Atlanta to Death Valley in one long night drive. Long distances noticeably contracted as the universe drew in on you. Lights at Stovepipe Wells loomed, joining the mountain-masked gibbous moon that illuminated the dunes to you for the first time, replacing the threnody they sang in the dark when the sands had shifted over Jacky.

The car glowed green beneath a shielded pole light in the motel parking lot. John took a room; it was still hot from the day long ago. The ceiling fan spun stationary and ensorcelled by the wildly contained air conditioner you slept like the injured. John sat in a vinyl chair picking at his scalp and tracing his hairline. Over his shoulders two ravens strode across the low wall of the arcade outside the window with their beaks inquisitively opened.

When it was full reared morning John pulled open the door.
Let’s find him. We start at the bottom.

The lowest point, Badwater Basin was white tomb endless, the moon and sun in the sky together. The shadow of the east wall of the valley inked a cool wash on the white hot present and drifts of dead moths. You felt your flesh abstracted into more salt and sky. John watched you shimmer. Beneath the tumescence of your blood and swollen fingertips your thoughts spoke the used-up words of a pickled man. This was the place where tangents of lives swept down the continental divide were scattered. Yours had run together with this one. John’s shadow nudged your feet. The man thought about death, or it’s opposite, white death, a forever sustained brink. Life wasn’t its opposite, it was the bare surface upon which death existed. But what he thought about was a rut across it in which he neither lived nor died, but sustained, his vision at terrain-level across the salt flat under a beige sky collapsing all times into one faintly pulsing rhythm.

Do you feel anything yet?
Not here, just to speak with your voice.

You two returned to the car. John drove out of the flats back toward Stovepipe Wells. The dunes grew closer at a rate faster than that at which you traveled. At the sand you proceeded alone on foot. From far out in the sterile dunes John’s car glittered. You measured the shadows of the dune crests as the sun dangled across the axis of the valley. It burned white. Your features dried into cakes that cracked when you sighed. Fissures ran deep into your sinuses and into your mouth and throat and your breath sizzled as it leaked in and out of your hot sieve of a head. John walked across the road, up the alluvial fan a ways then back down. He stopped next to the car calmly running his fingers through his hair. The lowered sun’s rays slowed in the air and battered your skin with a throbbing buttery heat that softened what had dried.

As dark soaked the valley, on the lee side of the highest dune, somewhere far from where he was swept beneath, you suddenly dug through the sand for Jacky. The hole remained shallow as much as you dug. You reached the cool sand and more hot sand from the side of the dune slid in. Discouraged, you held your hands, fingers splayed like a magician theatrically sending a pulse of magic energy into the shallow hole. In the length of your fingernails by the clear dusk you saw the ends of a man clawing his way out of you. The dunes creaked. If this had been the dark stretch of road where you lost Jacky, it wasn’t anymore. The sand sea protected its interments by grinding them beneath the tumbling waves of abrasive mountains, destroying their geometry, taking the reins of their orbit, and losing them. Watching for something separate from you to materialize, the cool gravity of night pulled your face, digits, hair, and pronouncements of flesh away like wet dust on glass into the hole with the quiet pat of folded laundry. The fingers reached and empty eyelids glared from the hole toothlessly. John honked the car horn extorting you out of the sand.

Poisonous exhaust smoke rose to tie across the Milky Way in the sash of a foggy icon that you could only see by looking briefly, then away, so that your mind could tease its image out of the apparent emptiness. You rose slowly up the last windward slope and his face, malevolent from a distance, was bored with the dim shrug of his intentions. It was all too geometric to awaken his lust and sour saliva. You brushed the pants of his coveralls with your knuckles as you got into the car. When the moon dawn feathered a blue tide over the profile of the Funeral Mountains John drove back down the valley.

An instant down the road, he pulled you from the car into a prie dieu of a parking lot below Zabriskie Point and ushered you down beneath the moon’s blade on trails scratched into the badlands. He walked in front of you with his arm thrown back, his fingers around your forearm. The sky showed like a torn pennant at the outlet of this lowest wash. The cobbles turned under your feet and you leaned against the chalky wall to crack breaths through the sand and phlegm. John faced the opposite wall. It was too quiet for love. He picked pills off of his laundered coveralls. You two, hypnotized in the blue glow. His shoulders tensed forward and then fell backward as he pushed his heels raced toward you his back pressed against your chest his ass against your pubis his heels struggled in the gravel. The back of your head yielded slightly into the soft sedimentary wall and stopped, then your face began to yield to the back of his head, your chest to his back, and your burned soft flesh opened like the glistening tongue of a shimmering mollusk being folded open and wrapped around its own crumbling shell that slid into John with oily force until he grinds against the wall and not J any longer and his heels dig through to the crusty mud below the gravel.

The valley swells with early morning when he scrambles up the back side of the point and over to the car. He feels something like burning salt water rushing in a torrent down the back of the inside of his ribcage, a blood waterfall in a tired grotto dizzy on the asphalt.

Enough long blank roads stretch inside his body that before the same full dayswell he coasts into a motel parking lot in Amarillo. A long, low, alone affair again, drawn by a blue fascia against the cloudless Texas sky compressing the bank of motel rooms into a trace of cells that transient rogues could only sit or lay down in. He takes a room. The dim sunlit motel is where he runs because it is furthest from the immaculate deed and closest to the wandering domicile of corruption. This room is dying a laminated death. The sheet at the top of the bed is folded over the rayon blanket like a tourniquet bound across a sleeping child. When he looks away from the turquoise door the color flickers like burning salt.

He sits with his chest pulled hard against the desk and palms flat outstretched. A full body of a breeze arises from the bathroom door like someone stepping into the room. Cold creeps from the tips of his fingers, down the knuckles, and keeps rolling. The presence of his hands is hyphenated by his arm. The cold grip is not taking his body; his body slides out of bloody warmth through the sphincter of afternoon’s meridians into the empty room. He is not first born into air and arms, as a man is, but truly born into this world, onto plastic and cold into anxious shade, which is Death quickly.

He gasps for air, feeling tightness from breaths he hadn’t breathed, too full with cold blood making skin taut and dappled like black pudding. The only way to isolate his self is to bleed out the settling blood. In the bathroom with a glass ashtray to break into daggers on the tile he finds a brown paragraph of rusted pins and slender nails on the window sill. He sits on the toilet and pushes the most slender pins into his perineum and the small nails into the undersides of his thighs, and leaves them all deep as clarity like fire lights his flesh. He traces his finger around the entered flesh where clotted blood finds the powder of rust kin. When he quickly pulls the lances one by one the collars of blood remain bound to them and drip reddening into the toilet bowl, first marbling with the immiscible blood clots but quickly a solid opaque form in the bowl. He looks down between his grey legs into a black sky beyond where the blood in the toilet formed the cleft half of an egg-shaped stone.

The walls defervesce to a high plain of skin colored grasses that smell of sweet youthful breath, and in the brown chafe of a shadow across the base of the wall terror arises that in his short life he has already made some enormous irrevocable mistake that was even now escalating towards the forfeiture of his freedom and past. He can’t admit in silence what it was, although he knows part of the terror was the truth that it was an act that was finite, elective, fresh, and irretrievable from the summations of matter.

Listless, he listens. A muffled voice makes plans through the wall. A shower runs with ropes of scalding water. A fan in a box below the curtain lays embalmed behind aluminum foil and cellophane tape. The funereal pleats of a drawn curtain behind the desk drool light from all skies through their inverted hoods. A phone, tan with square gray buttons, looses its cord coiled with a soft skin of dirt twirled about previous fingers, below one darkened red light.

He slides, weakened and desiccated, out of the smooth and dry tomb into the moonless soil of any night. Beyond the arcade overhang he stepped into a gravel and dust yard that dissipated like steam out across the dark to a cloud island beneath an old pole light. He hobbled into its tangible glow. The motel and the darkness beyond were consumed. Around the frontiers of the light’s space a living wicker was described in the warp and weft of bats in ambling flight, intermittently freed from the edge of the light to dart like a sword through a basket into the cloud to catch a wilted bug. A bat came tottering unstoppably toward John’s face until its sonar located him. It stopped to turn in midair, snout lolling before him, and he called out, the only voice I heard, from just in the darkness where he couldn’t see me. I waited a moment before pressing my face into the light. He vaguely scanned the distance for the motel burned out by the brilliant gas.

I said: Are you OK out here? It didn’t come easily. Words took my last dry breath when I whispered, even in bed, and I choked. I heard you cry out. I was used to hearing sand grinding from one side of the valley to the other. From the final millions of contracting gyres I had stopped in a place that continued to move around me. My room is right out beyond there. The fan and air didn’t work. I have a bottle of wine. He gulped with clicks of dry throat. I guided his paces by gently blooming the pentagram of my fingertips outward from his spine. Death Valley, empty but for me, seemed to have gotten immediately closer to everything. Where the decaying orbit of the deserts and plains and nations and highways tightened us in with distant rumbles fogs of brown light slunk below the horizon without moving.

John walked completely at my urging now. I couldn’t see the end of my arm but I felt him at my hand. When we reached the room he staggered, his arms hung lower, and his jaw gritted in the heat and silence.

Look at the ravens. Two swollen ones wheeled around the eave of the motel.

I dug the soaked cork out of dangerously old wine. We drank from glass tumblers with thick odd bases that diverted glimmers. The wine was hot. John sat propped on pillows from both beds against a headboard hung on the wall. The room wasn’t fully dark. The ceiling in white shade hung like a thunderstorm on the highway arises from mountain to mountain of the valley and beneath it, no earth, but purely luminous darkness of day. That light revealed every weathered detail on my hands and arms and John, beyond the shaded perimeter of the room, in my silent moments took the form of a black mountain.

As John filled with wine his features softened with the tenuous shimmering liquidity of loose fat. In the corners, those weren’t shadows; they just weren’t anything. John became incapacitated, almost not able to lift the tumbler to his mouth. Wine ran down his neck. It happened quickly, like a river became the horizon. I listened to the ravens clicking in the bark of the pinyon. John, looking into the brown darkness, blindly murmured with the off-key moan of a downed cow that saw your shadow, Death.

I talk to him from the tea leaves of the furniture. The way everything faces inward keeps us from being anyplace but what the room bounds. I describe the daylight, amidst the sky, or within the fullness of the sky, held congealed in the valley, the air was sometimes still, like when we were watching the sun set over the Panamint Mountains from against the base of the Funeral Mountains. There is no breeze and the colors of the sky and the tactility of the atmosphere back down the valley to Badwater Basin expand my body to match their finite immensity. It might be valuable for me to summon, when I feel closed in by his breathing, that spot in the violet haze, somewhere named Death, somewhere silent, somewhere in a shack of silver boards where I run to homestead with an open window to taste the heat. If I had a child out here I would want him to be ugly so he knew that only I loved him. At night in the room he would feel secure because this was the only place on earth that he really existed and I would hold him in my arms to sleep and not want to wake up. I would every day leave him to the world again. I would have to, so that our place meant something. That sounded like an ending. I think I stopped being completely human. Human was a look passed from one to another through the day, like a yawn. Now, with our acres of desert contracting, all in one breath I need to be human again. John burbles and rasps like dry rain. I spit wine into the toilet. It sinks like ferrous blood. I step around the bed, walking closer and closer to test his edges. As the universe expands, and we are separated, we still find ourselves with less and less space between one another. Around the fall of craquelure oil cloth curtains, do these always come in this color, or is this the pallor of something drained of color, the grin of day slips through. The days grow noticeably longer and, in their length, weaken to the point of dimly trickling in through a continuous milk of fireless opal that invades the room. I don’t think it is dusk or dawn, but two totalities together in stalemate. I can smell his clamminess. He had beaten me to the center where the world constricted too tight to perpetuate the deeds that contrived to encircle his short role. The broken ceiling fan and silent air conditioner addle us like a wound up fist. I moan out an animal plaint to him, then quietly, to the room, your voice, just to keep from being lost in the other voices, sounds like one other than your own. I won’t be animal. When I breathe my blood through a gash I will breathe it slow, with clarity and reflection, like a human. Then his face is white and his arms go white and he is luminous out of the dark. I pull up the cuffs of his pants and his legs are black, not black skin but the black of not there, of unused ink. The sheets are black and have no folds as they drink the distance of the room’s corners spreading up across the ceiling from the walls and inward to the center of the room over my head where it hangs like an eclipsing organ. It doesn’t creep as I watch but replaces each spot I look at. I throw open the curtain slowly like a coroner’s sheet. The vortex doesn’t open and swallow us. Like each other man diminishing, he passes to me a hand and a sigh from his own corrupt orbit to mine still afire and I take hold, wherein I begin to descend toward the valley floor. I roll John face-up onto a rollaway cot and tie him to it with towels around his chest, waist, knees, and ankles with his arms by his sides but we cannot fit through the door together. I tip the cot sideways and he droops like wet paper and I pull it through the door on its side across the arcade sidewalk. I stop at the edge of the sand parking lot where the salt flat is exposed like the moment of a photograph stretched in all directions endless. The cot leans him forward slightly, but still prone, as if he was always at the precipice of falling backwards to the ground which he could not see. He lays there drugged like a fraud. The salt is impossibly cerulean sprawling out ascian beneath the cot meeting a black mountain range. In either direction the mountain range runs uninterrupted and the flat landscape reaches. The sky above the black mountains is black too until a certain point in the barrel vault of the valley which begins to give way to the beige sky of the sun with the moon still eased into it like a watermark until they both hang there together without moving. I sit on the edge of the cot and dip a corner of the nylon quilt into the water in a small crater beneath the corona of salt and drip it onto his mouth which has blistered and gone translucent so that the shades of his wine-drawn teeth and knobby tongue creak toward the brine visibly although his mouth cannot open. I dress all of his parchment skin with the salty water, and a rain like vinegar from the flat sky lets grainy reflections of he and I show in each other’s dry eyes, and more brine collects in the crater to keep his lips damp enough to speak if he chose.

We taste salt on the part of our tongues that taste salt.
Say these things, say gently Death, let me fade into the next aspect of my composition, let me never know whence I came, let your inevitability never be assured by visions of your touch on me, let this edge just grow transparent, let it stop in the middle of an affirmation.