Oct/Nov 2011 Salon


by Stanley Jenkins


I had come upon a land in which every idea was a theater. It was all grease paint and gas light. The LORD God walked in the garden like thunder in the Catskills.

And every memory was a costume. And every desire was a character in the show. And the show, like the blooming of cactus in Twentynine Palms, must go on.

It was that kind of place.

And I said to Zorro in his mask, who was standing beside me overlooking the arroyo, and I said, "Some of these rocks aren't alive but they develop in complex patterns."

And he said, "No two snowflakes are alike."

And all the stone statues started to stretch and reach into animation. And it was horrible. There was unimaginable suffering as the inanimate became animate.

And the stones made faces waiting for sculptors. As if all you needed to do to live was remove what wasn't necessary.

And I said, "I don't like this place."

And Zorro in his mask said, this is what he said: "You do know there are worse places to be, don't you?"

And I looked at him behind his mask and said, "Every arroyo longs for the flood..."

He smiled and then added, "...but experiences it as a violation when it comes."

We shared a laugh, and then each went our own way.

The night smelled of redwood and popcorn and sawdust.


New York

After the tower fell, I lived among the ruins. It's funny, but you breathe the dust long enough and you start to hear the prayer of stones. Sometimes, when the fan belt snaps and the air is redolent of rubber and pavement, the scent itself becomes a tune. They sink dead subway cars in the harbor, and the fish find a new home.

Nobody feels the weather in this city except the homeless.

When I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes, my ears pound like cars being built in Detroit. You hear that sound sometimes coming in from New Jersey. But it's like seeing the light from stars. By the time you hear it, all industry has been dead for years.

This city doesn't exist yet. Every present is a work in progress. The past here has always been a shill for the future. The city has not abandoned me. It has merely invited me to take the long view.

My city is always swathed in prayer.



In Michigan the pounding of steel still sets the rhythm of religion. Good Methodist boys struggle to surrender to the Spirit. And when they do. They turn their backs on the respectable ones. And they solidify their place outside the camp. And they receive the baptism of fire. Some of them stockpile weapons. Some of them look their fathers in the eye and speak in tongues, as if to say, "Fuck you," in the halls of the sanctified and before the wells of the patriarchs.

Religion will drive you crazy out here. In the land of the automobile and home of the hillbilly—in the land of the last stop homeboy come up from Highway 61. They got cornish pasties and southern barbeque. They drink Faygo Red Pop and Vernors and Jack. They got Bob Seger and Iggy Pop. And Diana Ross.

The Holy Spirit don't take no shit in Detroit.

Soon the truth of Michigan—if it hasn't already—will reside with those who had to leave. Couldn't find a job. The land itself—if it hasn't already—will be left to await the coming of a new dream.

The land still nurses the wounds of glaciers. It can hardly be expected to comment upon the sorrows of lesser catastrophes.


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