Back to Issue Forty-Five

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, UT



I drove myself south to Escalante to backpack alone. On the highway out of Moab, a stranger called to say I left my wallet on the sidewalk. I doubled back, said thank you, started over. Familiar cliffs and stones kept me safe in their shadows, though really, death is nearer there. I didn’t plan for the dry riverbed, the six worried thirsty miles before reaching the spring in Death Hollow. Saying thank you as I filled the hot canteens. The cliff swallows dove in play before nightfall. Later, bats took on their patch of sky, slicing circles. I unfolded my tarp, shook out sand. After thumbing a ride back to your truck at the trailhead, I heard a long voicemail from the man who found my wallet. He couldn’t stop thinking about me. I struck him as somehow vulnerable. It’s true, I was a little afraid, at night, at the way the tapestry of sounds can separate into components, each approaching through the brush of horsetails, coyote willows. Never wanting to be found out there. Washing my face in a bathroom back in town, I saw each tag was torn from a poster for a domestic violence hotline. The town was barely populated. The streets were empty. A goat’s rectangular pupils watched as I picked up a woman hitchhiking. She told me where it was safe to sleep alone in a car. We listened to music with the windows down.


Green River, UT



Another woman took me under her wing on the train, and we talked all day. I was going to Green River, a blip of a town. The next morning I would meet some of the other workers, and they’d drive me to the ranch. When she asked where I would stay, I said with some pride that I’d camp out of sight near the train station, off in the sage brush. She begged me not to do it, begged me as a mother, made me promise I would get a hotel, tried to give me money. I said I would get a room, but didn’t, and it was beautiful there under the stars. Now I want to think I’m smarter. But when I went to a GI doctor, furtive and desperate, and was told to get a CT scan at once, I walked out. It cost $700. I was twenty-seven—it couldn’t be a tumor. I was under his knife two weeks later for emergency surgery; bowel fully obstructed, appendix bursting, intestine perforating, septic, vomiting, sweating, fevered, floating out of my body in pure pain, still resisting the hospital. And I was right—our insurance didn’t cover anything. Hard to say who is keeping me safe. Right before he told me I had cancer, that surgeon asked to see my lovely smile. I showed him.


Sand Flats, UT



The tumor bleeds. My endometrium sheds, perhaps for the last time before the hysterectomy. Blood pours from both my uterus and my rectum. This colostomy bag clings to my side, collecting feces and pus. What’s more, the chemo turns all my fluids poison. My tongue tastes chemical. I am supposed to flush twice with the seat down to protect others from my noxious urine. If we even tried it, you would be burned by my toxic pussy! This is all to say that I am hilariously un-fuckable. Extravagantly un-fuckable. And still you want me. This is love, I think. This is the realest it gets. As you hold yourself above me, barely touching, perfect and whole, eyes burning—this is love anyone would almost die for, love that comes at a price no-one would ever pay, this celibacy, this waiting, better than sex—except, I think, the night I had you on the open hills of red sandstone, at deep sunset, in a windstorm, with jagged lightening, black thunder, yipping coyotes somewhere—the wind whipping my long hair to a frenzy—how I felt my whole body was lifting into space—but you held me down, just like this, possessed, alien, godlike, looking at me, outside of time—the kind of vision you hope returns on your deathbed—burning with hope, youth, the West, danger, longing, here again, about to catch fire, all of it, now, and always, waiting.

“Sand Flats, UT” first appeared in Palette Poetry

Emily Lawson is a poet and PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of British Columbia. As a former Poe/Faulkner Fellow in poetry at the University of Virginia, she taught poetry and served as editor for Meridian. Her poems and lyric essays appear in Sixth Finch, Indiana Review, Waxwing, THRUSH, Muzzle, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Her pushcart-nominated fiction appears in BOOTH. She is a stage-III colon cancer survivor.

Next (Gabriel Ramirez) >

< Previous (Paola Bruni)