As Peter, four years old and this 1973, rides in the way back of his family’s station wagon, his mind is involved with the endless complexities that come with family, him deciding that it is unfair that his brother and sister get to sit in seats on the long trip across the country while he is piled in back with the luggage, and right now, riding through the Mojave, he sees his first Joshua tree and thinks, that yes, he could live here, and the tree could be his new mother, giving him the fruit it bears, whatever that is, and this might be a place where he could run away if his family continues to be violently unfair to his comfort, and he lolls in this thought for so long that it forms a special synapse in his brain, a memory of retreat, so that in 1993, when he drops out of college to take care of his mother through her sickness, he thinks of retreating to the wild Joshua trees not to escape her but this world, and when he is laid off in 2009 his brain returns to the desert, and he imagines life as an ancient hermit, and now in 2020, being drawn inside the anti-womb of the MRI machine that will estimate the length of the rest of his life, and that estimation might be short, he remembers the desert as a place of cleanliness where nothing too terribly bad happens, and he remembers the comfort of the way back of a station wagon passing hypnotically slowly, the smell of leather luggage and the voices of his family chatting, and he thinks if he could run away to anywhere, it would be there.
John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has ten books of poetry and fiction including The L.A. Fiction Anthology (Red Hen Press), Crossing the High Sierra (Cholla Needles Press) and California Continuum: Migrations and Amalgamations (Pelekinesis Press) co-written with Grant Hier. He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.
Your support lets us know our work is appreciated. We’re a paying market, publishing brilliant new work of fiction and non-fiction that comes our way. As a small group of volunteers, we’re dedicated to writers, readers, and publishers and want to keep our site ad, pop-up, and fire-wall free. Please do consider supporting us in whatever way you can. Thank you.