Aspen Stoddard


When you say home, do you mean rain-shadow desert? Arid orange valleys threaded with shallow streams, sand packed hard as concrete, encircled with mountains, massive and blue in the distance. Do you mean the smell of oxidation? Red rocks varnished with rusty film, eroding instantly beneath the dragging of my fingertips. Do you mean trails littered with native artifacts, triangular flint chips, glassy obsidian glinting in papaya-cloud sunsets? Or is it the Virgin River, coppery midnight blue fluid rushing high-water-orange in the rain, sanding granite bone-smooth, carving channels where water recedes revealing mud flats etched with thousands of waves like continuous Aquarian glyphs? Is it the flow of aerated lava rock, these towering black bluffs of columnar jointing, cholla cacti, and sagebrush, sagebrush, sagebrush? Is home the incessant croak of oil-black ravens, the boiled egg smell of sulphur, the prevailing winds like enormous, heaving exhales, with translucent, velvet screams knocking me sideways. Does home include yard after yard of yellowed grass, pink stucco on beige stucco, and tumbleweeds big as Mack-truck tires, round as the moon? Are summers a white-hot vortex full of horseflies and hundred-degree weather? Not one-hundred-degrees, but 118. Is home fire? Tangerine flames licking black night of constellations. Is it red sand in your palm? Sand full of foxtails, goat heads, crushed leaves of creosote that make desert rain smell like wildflower potpourri. Sand that climbs into your sleeping bag, into your sandwich, into your glass of water?

Or do you mean the other home? The one you pretend to accept? The one you can’t forget? Of a religion to which you do not belong? Of youth who were told by their leaders that to be worthy of God they must not talk to you because you’re a nonmember. Do you mean that home? Both bitter ends of Utah, both north and south, both tales that lead to that head, your head, head that begs to forget. Is it this beehive state, state of California seagull, state of cultural homogeny, state of Mountain Meadows Massacre, state that attempted to swallow you whole? Funny state. Broken state. Mind-fucked state. Or is home the city of Hurricane, where the streets are a thousand chemical memories? A place to self-wound. City of angels. City of silence. City that told you, “You don’t belong, your family is going to burn in hell.” City of houses where you copped drugs, sacrificed your smile, became too much of your own shadow. Place in which you promised not to get angry. Because you shouldn’t get angry, because ignorance is inbred, because anger is home, is your high school principle telling you you’re trailer trash, is your father walking in smelling of motor oil and hot radiators, is the sweat of meth smoke on your cheeks, is a million Mormons in your mind taunting you, reminding you that you’re bad, that you’re wrong, that you do not deserve to share space with the chosen.

But that’s not right either. Because all of anything is nothing definite. Because everything is bound to erode. And you still love the desert. And you still love the rhythm of loneliness. And you still want to get angry. And you’re still seeking this meaning of home.


Aspen Stoddard is a nonfiction writer in Chatham University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. She also teaches creative writing for Words Without Walls, a social outreach program serving Pittsburgh. Her work has been published in High Country News magazine, Route 7 Review, The Spectrum, and is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review and Snapdragon. She is working on her first book.

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