Desert Baroque

Derick Dupre

Kyoosang Choi

Basin and range is the name of this place. I could tell you a thing or two about it. I could talk of the white-winged doves cooing before dawn and rocking on the power lines, or of the javelinas chewing cactus after dusk, or of the endless singing dust, on floors, in cracks, piling behind cabinet doors, of the sweet and pungent waft of sweaty flesh, like nutmeg dashed on rotting greens, the erotically-charged cutaneous scents adrift in the high desert air. I’ll take a deep breath and think of spent lovers in each other’s arms, basking in lather on a damp bed, the sudor of ardor. I think of your flesh in the summer in the subtropics, thick and sultry and nothing like the semi-arid landscape in which I’m losing myself, my self dispersed like a fistful of dust, diminished in value as a fading copper prospect.



But during the dry days the feeling and quality of silence remind me of art movies from wartorn countries. If anything breaks the silence, it’s just the dusty wind and birdsong. I close my eyes in intervals to keep the montage interesting: one moment a landscape of hallucinatory calm, the next a lingering shot of a child trying to feed a butterfly soda from a straw, and then the range again. Last month I was flying home and studying the land below, rendering the topography as extinct language, scanning ranges like lines of ancient epic in a tongue that no one knows. If only I could crack the code. We went through a patch of turbulence so rough it brought a woman to climax, though perhaps she knew the pilot and they were engaged in some kind of chaotic pressure-play. You would’ve once been into that, but now I’m not so sure. I close my eyes and open on a shot of velvet drapes, done in plum, rippling out so slow and stately. They seem to announce the arrival of a dignitary. Then I see you in a vision, strolling by my window in a pantsuit beneath which I can see your pelvic curves, as petals dress a pistil, there you are, our lady of the scorching pun and the sunlit tulips that lined the tile walk, tulips in the three colors of carnival, and there you are and there I am and I feel my veins quicken and my heart splinter under my suit and fall into my shoes, like swept glass tumbling into the trash. I close my eyes as if for the night. But there will be no pause, no rest between these many walls. There are no tesseracts in American lives.



From the solar core it takes almost 200,000 years for its energy to radiate outward, which is about as long as we’ve been dealing with behavioral health. But now we’re in our own era and all we have are memories of transformation and the promise of extinction. The past is a ravenous animal, the future a smoldering pile of shale. Dusk is the hour of poetry, and we’re losing light fast: We used to run up and down the canal at night, shadows cast by sodium glow, and downtown was a distant circus with flickering neon pooling in the riverbend, our shoes caked with wet sand and our clothes hanging on the fence, it was an epic of wire mesh, and once we glanced down the bank and then across the river, wide as a memory and as unutterable, when a wanderer approached us and asked us where his dog was. “What’s its name?” you asked, and he said “Fuck off” and I said “Watch it buddy” like I could start a fight with those three cartoony words, and he said “No, that’s the dog’s name, Fuck Off,” and we laughed and started calling for the dog, a singsong “Fuck Off” echoing on the water. We were close and we were strange, but I was only a witness to your life and not living within it. The church clock chimes ripple out rather broadly and earlier and earlier with every passing day. It’s now 3:56 and the Westminster Quarters become the authorized soundtrack to my undoing. I know that my redeemer just cannot be bothered and that we live in a world where physicists sound like mystics. A new century begins, here.



I’ve framed a photograph of the view outside my window, next to my window, and look at the photograph when I’m not looking out, a real-time game of spot the difference. But in the hills and canyonland there is an elemental pull, a mystic force at work, dormant and forgotten, like a cache of unknown fossils or of transuranic waste. In the picture there’s not the deepening sense of mystery, wonder, and dread that lurks in the physical landscape. I always preferred a deepening to a heightening of consciousness. I like to sink into things slowly, like someone with a wounded tailbone being told to have a seat. Thus I might’ve been on the canyon floor, cataloguing the loss of love, factchecking my grief, while thinking about who you were with made my heart feel like it was stuck in quicksand, which is the feeling of all loss, a depthless sorrow moved by an eternal churning of the heart. It’s not ideal for a vital organ to be buried in so much sand, primarily the heart, the original primitive forge, which at any moment can threaten to transform that sand into glass, like so much useless trinitite. I think of walking the ninety hours to White Sands just to rake my fingers through the dunes and commune with that old time man-made energy. From there it’s only another sixty to the pilot plant. Somewhere in this wastescape there’s a richness.



So I’ve gone and built a relationship fallout shelter, a romantic defense structure, deep in an abandoned copper mine, designed to protect from harmful memories until they’ve decayed to safer levels. I let myself in whenever I feel the fear, terror, paralysis, and other joys attendant to inner collapse. But despite my efforts to put my own brand on the place, it still reminds me of you: I may as well have used your face as a blueprint. It’s a humble dwelling, with an army cot, a blanket, several bottles of something, long-burning candles, and a vintage iPod that only plays the angry music from my teenage years. I’ve spent many nights doing sit-ups to Start Today and failing to heed its message of proactivity. When it’s safe to emerge I might take in a lightning storm, the air coastally cool, and over the mountains the sky flickers like faulty neon, or distant mortar fire, like electric lilac. Across the gulch I see the scores of bug zappers that hum and sizzle the same color of the sky. And then I feel the fear and then I retreat again, acutely and sadly aware of the fact that I’ve enclosed myself in a sort of proto-crypt of my own making. And then I think of the old prayer: I heard something like the sound of thunder and I went to it and it spoke to me and said, I am you and you are me, where you are I am and in all things I find myself dispersed, whatever you find, it is me you are finding, and when you find me, you find yourself.



Although the rain proves a hindrance to such scattering and dispersal, threatening the stability of our fragile psychic ecosystems. A passing monsoon washes the gulch and my skin, warm with wine, gets a good soaking. Rain pours down the endless staircases, fountains done in desert baroque. Pickup trucks rush down the avenue, carried by the wavelike sound of their tires on wet pavement. A schizophrenic man rides an air mattress like it’s a life raft and barks for help like he’s Lassie. The storm clears as fast it came on and I know you’d be pleased by the fragrance of the earth, the smell of wet weather and rain-crushed dust, notes of ozone in the nose. Dry-aged leaves and juiceless fruit exude their trippy oils, the ancestral scent of regeneration. But it’s been one long test of environmental suitability, subjecting myself to extreme conditions, seeing if I have the ability to adapt, to survive, in a landscape void of you. It’s about as certain as a scrying. I’ve never known how to reckon with my present surroundings, nor those of the dusty past or of the grim future. A slight hypoxia kicks in just below 6,000 feet and suddenly the most basic and colorless things, rocks, are imbued with a vivid light usually reserved for visions. The uselessness of enchantment. When is a rock ever the thing? What is a rock? Who is a rock? The long slow creep of scree symptomatic of mass wasting, landforms disintegrating at about the same rate I am, inevitable as gravity.



Sometimes I think about the room I’m going to die in. Where is it, what’s in it, how long until I find myself in it. All the rooms I’ve lived in are nothing but antechambers to this ultimate room. But knowing the swift and infinite indifference of death, any room could be my last. Will I be streaming something in bad broadband, watching things buffer only to slip away, like an outstretched hand disappearing in a dream sequence? Will there be a window with a mountain vista, or just a view of endless sand? Whose voices will I hear, live or pre-recorded? When the bomb goes off, whether from outside or in, whose is the face I’ll offer a prayer? Humor me, my stupid heart. But the thing about a life of dissolution is that it’s a work-in-progress. It’s never over. And there’s a beauty and a cosmic justice in the scattering of particles. In the meantime I’ll stroll around and up and down, carrying all manner of particles and shards like secrets, losing them and finding more, and looking for that final face, yours, only always, arriving on the wind, drifting in from empty spaces, iconic in my lifetime, found in specks of dust and drops of sweat or on a burnished hillside. I check the map just to be sure: it says: YOU ARE HERE.



Derick Dupre

Derick Dupre is the author of the chapbook Frail Shrines (Shotgun House, 2017) and the editor of The White Elephant. His work has appeared in publications including Hobart, Eyeshot, Sleepingfish, and Spork. He currently lives in Bisbee, Arizona, where he is working on a novel.

Kyoosang Choi

Kyoosang Choi is an artist and muralist born in South Korea. He graduated School of Visual art, New York, where he founded his crew “Make Real.” He has done exhibitions and mural works based in New York and Los Angeles, and he now lives and works in Los Angeles.