Pictura Gallery

Bella Bravo: In Conversation with Joshua Dudley Greer

October 21, 2019

Pictura’s move into the FAR Center for Contemporary Arts was the initiation of a continued effort to create collaborations between various art forms. Our last post detailed a performance of tango paired with photographer Andres Mario de Varona’s work. This week, we want to share a series of poems that were birthed out of a collaboration between local writers and Joshua Dudley Greer’s Somewhere Along the Line’. Paired with the photograph, below is a short story by writer, Bella Bravo.

Los Angeles California 2017

Joshua Dudley Greer: Los Angeles, California, 2017

Gaze out the open passenger window of a nondescript, six-passenger van on its way to San Diego. The A/C is broken. When you reach for a styrofoam cup full of warm water that was ice an hour ago, a cockroach runs across your fingers. The guide says he saw several roaches jump off the chassis at the gas station in Gula, Arizona, so hopefully there aren’t many left. A semi passes on the right, and the 114-degree wind hits your face like a giant blow dryer cranked to the max. You’re somewhere in the Sonoran Desert. Can’t say where exactly, and you have no one to tell. Your phone doesn’t work in the heat. You don’t know your guide, the driver. He has suggested that you two sleep together twice since Houston, and thus far respected your declinations. You can’t take the wind so you say you’re going to lie down in the back of the van. You sprawl on the dirty yellow camping pad that came with the van, careful to keep skin from touching skin. The foam sticks to your wet limbs. The brakes clank and drown out the rushing from the freeway. The windows are tinted. You can’t see out, but stare up at the black, swooped rectangle anyway, and in its place imagine the coral pink sunset, fields of movie-set cacti, empty pastel interstate rest stops, some abandoned, some unfinished and the rest in middling stages of neglect, the back-lit primary colors of deluxe travel center signs, fragrant thumps of bursage, shadows that follow the contours of the land where rainfall flows, and beyond toward the horizon of California smudged with mud-mauve mountains, mountains you can’t look through, a solid geotectonic wall with a few hairline cracks that crumbled into corridors. The van drives across a desert you know as an American through television and now as an exile. In your passing imagination, the beauty is breathtaking, and in reality it sucks the water from your body and disappears behind you.

It’s dark now. And here the van sways with the curve of the canyon. Sigh as you feel the air get cooler. Quietly pant through the night heat. Only flinch when the cockroaches scurry on your skin and when the van comes to a stop.

We’re here,” says your guide with quickness. You expect his mechanical rhythm. The morning light comes through the windshield. Lavender. You realize you were asleep. You regret that you let yourself sleep.

You haven’t left the van since El Paso. When the guide stopped for gas there, he drove into the city so you could use the bathroom. In Arizona, he counted eight customers with American flag t‑shirts in the parking lot of a Love’s. According to the guide’s weather app, the temperature felt like” 119, but he said one of the Flags was bound call in an ICE check, so you rolled up the windows and waited in the back ready to get into your giant empty hockey bag, which smelled wrong like a teenage boy’s poor hygiene and an unknown underlying disease. Your daughter bought the human-sized roller bag at a yard sale after the president signed that denaturalization order. Your daughter couldn’t get the tangy body odor out. She cleaned the bag with astringent sprays from her sink cabinet and let a thick layer of baking soda sit on the interior overnight, but ultimately you two decided that when you look at the bag you say a person could fit in there, but the odor is so bad that no one would try to open it. Before your journey, you practiced in your daughter’s living room zipping your slim five-foot-zero frame into the bag. You are in this van because you cannot go home.

You say, Are you sure I can?”

The guide says, Come out and you’ll see.” He opens his door. His boot scratches the pavement.

As you sit up, the foam doesn’t stick to you. You’ve stopped sweating. You hear car radios at various distances. Car wheels slowly crunch asphalt, and the hydraulics of a large braking system release. An intersection. The air smells like rubber tires and a deep fryer. A city. You’re suddenly hungry.

You tug on the door handle and then yank, and the slide along the metal rails sound like a filing cabinet. Your eyes adjust with the slow opening from shadow to bright and then Technicolor. Yellow shining lights above, an ivory iron fence around a mint green ranch house, the blacktop of narrow four lanes, a silver coupe, and the guide standing in cream t‑shirt with a lit cigarette next to the gas pumps.

He says, Vamos.” You recoil into the van like the leaves of a touch me not folding inward. You had banned your first language after the raid. The agents sang la cucaracha. You escaped and started planning.

You realize that the guide gave you reason to c’mon, a signal that you’re safe.

Your legs shake, but steady after one, two steps on the concrete. It’s hard-sturdy in a way you remember. The ground-up stones solidified together and laid over miles of compacted dirt, rocks, and micro-plastics, what you now know as the earth.

Look.” The guide points up as you slowly walk toward AM him, and you do. You look. Crane your neck as you turn and halt. Eyes toward the sky. But against the warmth of the sunrise fading into a cool blue, you see on top of the filling station the sculpture of a church. White. three-tiered. Byzantine. Gold embellishments. About the size of a preschool play gym. The fluorescent lights light the shelter underneath as though blessing each vehicle that passes through.

You say, Sanctuary.”

Yeah,” the guide says. Lo tienes.”

Short Story by: Bella Bravo

Image by: Joshua Dudley Greer