Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – Ortíz Quebrada


Ortíz Quebrada


the steaming power plant is a roar of lights whistles and screeching valves
the glitter of a thousand incandescent bulbs shed a purple-yellow glow
from the base of the unit to the very top like a giant monochrome
Christmas tree

the sound of a hundred steam and air driven systems assaults the senses
whissh rrrummmhhhummm humm hummm: the deafening strum
of an orchestra tuning up in an enharmonic clinch
the hair stands on end at the back of my neck

Ortíz closes the drawer of his desk and unlocks the security door
slightly built with wavy hair and a mustache that bristles before he speaks
he boasts the Spanish accent of the Americas

Buenos dias! Or, should I say
‘Good night’?”—a little night shift humor
“By the way” without a pause
“One of the mechanics got the boot last night.
Got caught asleep on the job
for the second time! Heh heh”

the small stove holds a charred pot
the coffee stale and burnt
“Fresh pot, Ortíz!”
“Sorry ‘bout that” he readies for the end of the shift
“You know how hectic it gets ’round here”
I empty the pot of black syrup
into the yawning gape of the sink

“You might as well go home!” I finish the coffee duty
walk behind a rack of chain hoists and monkey wrenches
sort through invoices and tares

“I’m here!” I call to the night
another evening in the hollows
of the electric machine


Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – Boundary Cone the Spirit Mountain


Boundary Cone the Spirit Mountain


the Quebrada family
fought against the gringos during the Spanish-American war
they lost all their land in the outcome

despite the resentment
los Quebrada held against the gringos
Ortíz remained optimistic

he left Mexico to pursue the North American dream
little did he realize his job at the steam plant would be the sum
of his New World achievements; and that, one of constant short-changes in salary and privileges

when work permitted
he shared stories of quixotic adventures
he vowed true; in the foothills of the Black Mountains

one eerie tale was a mystical sort
in the heart of a crag the Mohave Indians called Spirit Mountain:
known to European settlers simply as the Boundary Cone
used by the local  farmers to survey the division
between the Mesa and the river sloughs

the sagebrush lined washes and escarpments
rose to a large point where the rhino horn-shaped rock met the sky
transported by the silhouette of the peak
I became mesmerized

what adventures could one have on this barren hill?

Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – ’49 Willys



’49 Willys


the ’49 Willys trailed a billow of dust
as it raced along the dirt road toward the cone
that rose from the alluvial plain
like the horn of a rhinoceros

with his eyes fixed in the distance
Ortíz clung to the Jeep’s canvas seat
and leaned into the oncoming wind
cornered the vehicle
into the dry wash
and sent sand flying

he reached for a pair of binoculars
in a brown leather case at his side
eyes focused on the tip of  Boundary Cone

¡Alla! There it is!”
his breath excited

the Jeep crawled
in low gear
crushed rocks
under its wheels
rising and falling
with the terrain

Ortíz’ eyes stayed fixed on the vision
at the top of Spirit Mountain

Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – A Cosmic Flag


A Cosmic Flag


Ortíz  subconsciously tools the truck along the wash as it crawls
over rocks and boulders struggling to keep it from steering into the sand
“¿Que sea esto? What is this?” his thoughts ricochet off every test of logic
he can put to the phenomena

the mountain has ripped a deep gash into the sky
the blackness deepens with each passing moment
its tip sends a shower of white sparks streaming into space

the jeep’s front wheels dive into a gully; sinking to the hubs
Ortíz sails into the air and lands in a bramble of greasewood
the tires continue to spin slowly in the sand
—the engine groans

extracting himself from the thorns he scrambles to his feet
presses the binoculars against his face
his eyes widen once more
it is still there!

the dark bluish gape in the sky intensifies with each flap
it furls and unfurls like a flag fluttering in the wind
¡Es tremendo! This is too much.” he has to get to the top
he has to find out what this is

Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – The Sage



The Sage


it was a hot day in August, as I recall
the thermometer measured one-hundred and twenty-two degrees
a day this hot was not unusual for the Mojave; but the temperature is not the important thing
it is the events that occurred in this atmosphere of heat and dust that interests
for it was an atmosphere ripe with implication—
an atmosphere that lends a measure of truth
to the story I am about to tell

a hawk circles overhead

the hot breeze evaporates
the dampness of the red
bandanna cooling
the skin on Ortíz’ neck
—he conjures the image
of an old and wizened sage
on a quest

the shadow of the sun stretches
the silhouettes of cactus and mesquite
in an ancient dance across the desert floor

pushing back his straw hat Ortíz brushes
the sweat from his brow
Hoy,” he whispers under his breath, offering a silent prayer
“¡Ojala! llego al cima del cerro. 
Today, I will scale this mountain. I hope!”
he shrugs and begins the climb

Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – Ascent




Ortíz climbs along a narrow trail
the path rounds jagged rocks and cactus

beneath the canopy of a Palo Verde
the sun’s rays crisscross in a mesh of bright coolness
he allows himself a brief rest under its shade

as he waits
a calmness fills him
he breathes deep the sage-scented air
a coyote crosses the trail

a hawk’s cry pierces the stillness
“Cree-awk-awk!” it is a lonesome song
it fills him with longing
he contemplates the bird’s flight
¡Que marvillas vos ojos han visto! What stories your eyes could tell!

the bird catches air pockets that rise and fall
mixing with currents of hot and cooler upper air

the hawk is circling something
that waits atop the mountain
Ortíz is just as determined as the hawk to see what it is

he steps out from the refuge of the Palo Verde’s willows

the climb at first is easy
he remains surefooted on the loose scree that litters the trail
dragging the spines of a large ocotillo branch across a sharp rock
he rubs the surface smooth
to use as a staff

“¡Si! Como el brujo que bajó la montana.
Yeah! Like the old sage come down from the mountain,” he muses aloud
“Pues ¡subo! Only I’m going up!”

he ascends

Further! Adventures on the Mojave Trail – The Blackness of Space


The Blackness of Space


after much sweat and toil
Ortíz reaches the top
the hawk is gone

the desert opens to a panorama
the river cuts through verdant fields
the Mesa rises to the mountains
scrub brush dot the alluvial plains in a carpet
of sparse and sun charred driftwood

the wind picks up
a darkening cloud forms from the moisture of the irrigated fields below
a gust stirs up from the Mesa blowing a grit of sand across his face

on the peak
Ortíz’ world transforms into darkness
without warning bluish streaks of lightning arch above his head

cra-ckkk! thunder splits the sky
the tip of the mountain rises in a sudden movement of earth and rock
and rips a gash in the sky like the one from the day before
a rushing shower of icy sparks stream from the rip in a frenzy

Ortíz hunches low to the ground in fear
a sudden wind funnels into a rising vortex
he feels the pull of vacuum
lifting him up up up
into the dense sky

the screech of the wind forces a blood-curdling scream from his lips
“Ahh-i-eeeyh!” an uncontrollable flood of panic takes over him
his arms flail furiously

the last thing Ortíz remembers is seeing stars
bright against the blackness of space

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