The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – Yellow Days

At a spot on the eastern edge of the scorched Mojave Desert, where the Colorado River converges on the Three State Lines, lies an area known as Cal-Nev-Ari. There, it is said once lived a terrible monster—a behemoth coal-fired steam power plant. Officially designated the Southern Mojave Generating Station by the engineers who created the steel and molybdenum beast, it was called SMOGS by everyone else. As if the infernal climate of heat and dust was not enough to make life miserable for those who lived under its shadow, at inexplicable times during the day, the giant erector set belched a cloud of noxious gas from its deceptively cheerful, candy-striped smokestack. This cloud of sulfurous ash hovered in the upper layers above the sleeping town of Cow Rock, a small resort just across the river from the gambling halls and casinos of Layton. The steam and vapor rising from the cooling towers, along with the yellow ash from its exhaust, gave a fearful impression. To the untrained eye, it was part living creature, part fire-breathing contraption—snorting death and carnage from its every orifice into the pristine skies of the bustling desert community.

Ned Bean was a tool room attendant at SMOGS. Immersed in the inner sights and sounds of the steam plant at night, despite frequent fits of yawn and torpor, the unassuming clerk tried his best to keep alert. Motivated by his muse, the never-ending night, Ned often experienced moments of lucid wakeful dreaming. These visions, coupled with the active imagination of a man driven by a surreal sense of reality, are preserved in a log he kept as part of his work duties. The letters which you are about to read, along with the accompanying Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway are the result of the experiment in mental purgatory that was the life of the steam plant clerk.




Yellow Days


“I remember when the sunlight had a special kind of brightness…
yellow days, yellow days”

Alvaro Carillo and Alan Bernstein
©1965 1966 Ed B Marks Music Co



the steam plant
nestles on the banks
of the Colorado River

on an alluvial slope
where the valley rises
to meet the mountains to the west
(another range flanks it to the east)

in a rocky
desert terrain
dotted with scrub greasewood
the electric power generator
stands out-of-place
with the idyllic scenario
of the small desert resort town
that lies just across the river

it seems contrary
that in a landscape so picturesque
surrounded by rugged hills that slope
down into a lake of dazzling cobalt
topped by a sky so perennially blue
the clouds become cameo
—lies this ubiquitous
mechanical skyscraper

a labyrinth of girders and platforms
a giant gray steel erector set
cradled in the bosom
of desert ecoloia

a spewing volcano
—it shrouds the basin
in its jaundiced cloud

“Yellow Days” originally published on Apr 19, 2015 


The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – The Edison Inferno


the Edison Inferno


several machinists
enter the tool-room
in search of the “lost panacea” (the cure-all
for the convulsions of an ailing steam plant)

some have found an intermittent remedy
while still others have thrown up their hands
agonized by the frustrations inherent
to yet another day at
the Edison inferno

…downwind from the plant the populace gags
as they rise from their overnight torpor
grinning back at their dreams
shuddering at their expectations
of yet one more day
under “the cloud”

peeking out from behind drawn drapes
they catch a glimpse of the behemoth
spewing hot ash and destruction
defying the very space that contains it
challenging even the logic that created it

the brainchild of economic woebegone
genius of failing energy resource
the Baby Huey of engineering

with its centipede-like army
of technicians

welding and wiring
patching up the lifelines that feed the beast
maintaining the flow of precious sludge
that nourishes
fires it

a formula
masterminded by mad chemists
in a downtown Los Angeles

brought by hundreds of miles
of steel pipeline from coal mines
in New Mexico

or is it Colorado? anyway
from someplace very far away
—into its hollow
iron guts

with a roar
a belch
and a sputter
life emerges from
the belly of the beast

hot glowing coal is ignited
seared and scorched sending
superheated water through
ribs and arteries of cold
rolled titanium steel

to where through the ferocious manipulation
of mechanical valves and injectors
it is channeled

into the waiting turbines

The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – Moonlight on the Lake


Moonlight on the Lake


the dark blue shadows
of midnight dance
with the flicker
of moonlight
on the lake

fishermen’s boats loll
gently creaking in the crisp
sheer silence of the cool water

klieg-like spotlights
crisscross the water knifing
slices of pale amber
on the surface

the “plop” of a lure
cast out into the night
the slap and splash of carp
poking the table of air

the lull of music wafting
softly across the dam
to a fisherman

The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – The Colorado River


The Colorado River


to the last moments of ecstasy
on the river’s swollen belly
the fishermen pull anchor
and steer home


the water skis come out
the boats’ll cut that water
pulling skiers in a splashing frenzy
coiling their wake in a whipping froth
of foam and spray

the din
of youth clamors
and rains like wild dogs
on their idyll

cutting the water’s stillness
with the primitive cacophony
of boat splash and roar
in a gloriously
wild ride
to freedom

they ride the sun to its zenith
and follow it down to day’s end—
and one more endless summer
night on the beach

The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – The Valley


The Valley


winter left sudden the valley
budding green cottonwoods perked
the sparse landscape

the sky waxed clearer
dust slowly settled with late winter’s drizzle
the quartz-rock mountains crackled in clarity
ruggedly tearing the skyline

chickweed crowned the hillocks
and rumps in an emerald carpet—
desert lilies trumpeted the roadside
their clarion-like flowers heralding
the end/the beginning
of a new season

and soon the river
the opal blue river
its rocky red banks
the swelling current’s turbulent
surging fat ripple

will sing…

let go
let’s go
down by the river
where the waters rush by
down by the waters
by the riverside
water so clear and crystal azure
water so pretty make you
lose those

The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – from the Belly of the Beast


from the Belly of the Beast


at the steam plant
we don’t walk, we run!
when the unit lets out a bellow
like a Polynesian fire-idol screaming
for virgin sacrifice threatening volcanic
annihilation of the natives who—half-naked
with fear—try to appease the beast

“We fix-um! We fix-um!” they plead and scream
scurrying about in a witless ritual
attempting every known device
and operation that might
bring the creature
back to reason

fumbling with wrenches
running up and down ladders
“It’s hot! It’s hot!” they shriek
handling joints and sockets
super heated to an enormous
flesh shriveling degree

gang-bosses yell “Heave. Push.
Heave!” Flames spitting from their
teeth and sixteen-pound sledgehammer
hands coaxing a little more just a little more
from the poor natives who only came to work
at this god-forsaken place because they thought life
would be so much better living beneath
the shade of a live volcano!

The Pneumatic Steampunk Doorway – Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail


Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail


nighttime has fallen on the sleepy metropolis
the inhabitants are lulled by the roar
and rumble of the electric factory

under steel girders
and condensers
an occasional mechanic stirs
a technician kicks over and yawns
…night is at hand

“Mommy, mommy
who was that masked man?” the children cry
as they watch their father ride into the ether to meet
who knows what Further Adventures
on the Mojave Trail?

back in Cow Rock
the sleeping metropolis dreams
unaware of the creeping loathsome
black-lung that approaches

so what else is new?
“Nothing,” he says—over a
steaming hot cup of coffee
an overnight headache
and a yawn

…all is quiet
the steam plant is at peace

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