I write this in the desert, reading Italo Calvino and visiting family. Las Vegas is in a valley, and the heat bakes us like the inside of a pizza oven. We spend the day inside, shades drawn, reading books and watching TV and eating, waiting for it to cool down.
But the mountains are visible from nearly anyplace a person stands, which makes me think a lot about inspiration. Here, I’m inspired by the things a person can see from far away: the mountains, of course, and the skyline of the strip, and the casino lights that flash on and off in patterns. The sky goes for miles and miles. When the sun sets, the sides of the mountains glow. Move away from the city, and you can see a haze over it, like a soft blanket. I’m not writing about this well, not getting at what I want to. Up at Mount Charleston, a sign said that the valley used to be full of lakes and marshes. The city just stops on its edges instead of fading away. Homes butt up against the desert. “Desires are already memories,” Calvino writes in Invisible Cities.
When you’re on a plane to Las Vegas, you can’t tell the stranger sitting next to you, I’m going to see my grandfather because he has Alzheimer’s. I mean, you can, but the person doesn’t want to hear that, they want to hear bachelorette party or 30th birthday or whatever. I didn’t even tell some of my friends where I was going, just saying, out west. “Signs form a language, but not the one you think you know.” That’s also from Invisible Cities. And, “When a man rides a long time through wild regions he feels the desire for a city.” There’s a half-finished shopping mall that we pass on the way to the home where Poppie lives. Was it that desire that pushed buildings up from the desert, with “spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where the foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third…”? In the rearview mirror, stopping at In & Out, I looked at the fake New York skyline, stubby buildings barely evocative of home.
The subject of this post was originally Inspirations, but it’s not like I’ve felt inspired to write. It’s more like, inspired to make memories, because there are things that I’ll never be able to ask because it’s already too late. The memories are gone. And it’s like we’re constructing another city around Poppie, made up of what he has held onto.
Why contradict. He doesn’t live here, anymore.
Monica Wendel (Episode 5, interview; Episode 49, interview; Episode 57, poetry) is the author of No Apocalypse. She is a visiting instructor of English at St. Thomas Aquinas College. Her poetry has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Forklift Ohio, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other journals. A graduate of NYU’s MFA in creative writing program, she is the recipient of both Goldwater and Starworks teaching fellowships, and has taught creative writing at Goldwater Hospital, NYU, and St. Mary’s Health Care Center for Kids.