If you’re here now, at the junction of Highways 395 and 120, you must have passed through the town of Pearsonville in the early morning light. There’s this one awesome Shell gas station out there that has every flavor popsicle you can imagine. It’s one of the few along Highway 395, those thousands of miles of asphalt that string together so much of California.

Outside this gas station, the desert hues that usually fade into the background fill the entire landscape, and I wonder, what happens when the whole world around you becomes the colors that usually uplift other things? What happens when that’s all that there is?

When you sit and look for a few minutes, you see how rich the palette of sage and burnt orange and deep brown around you truly is, how delicate the creosote flowers become when you choose to look at them up close.

A photograph of a gas station frame against a brilliant blue sky.

And now here we are, 200 miles north on the highway, another place between places. I’m guessing you’ll have to keep driving to make it to Yosemite Valley before the parking lots fill up, but if you decided to stop in town outside the red benches in front of the market and sit for a while, you might be shocked at what you find.

We’ve all cried on those red benches at some point, I know I have. Stop for a minute, you might hear us talking about why D decided to become an atheist because of astronomy, or that one free throw B made three years ago that threw the game into an overtime victory. Some people call it gossip but I call it a way of piecing this world together,

That is poetry – poetry doesn’t have to be grand poetry doesn’t have to be romantic or even beautiful I think, poetry is the way people turn to look at each other on those red benches, poetry is sitting on C’s sheet-covered couch eating Cup of Noodles watching the Dodgers on one of those Sundays where the sun’s bearing down too hard from the sharp blue arc of sky.

Let’s walk down Main Street, which is actually just highway 395. Look, that’s the bakery on your left. The turquoise paint is thick and the brown paint is peeling because the jobs were done at different times, and if you happened to be here at 4 in the morning you might see a light in the window. Do you think there’s different types of knowledge in this world and do you think that one of them is knowing exactly how much of a big chunk of bread dough to cut off so that it weighs 2.0 ounces and is ready to get rolled up to bake after your first try cutting it?

The bakery requires that every piece of dough be rolled, but I always wondered what it would look like braided, because one time last year in English class my friend S asked the poet Tiana Clark how to stop writing about things that make him sad and she said, I invite you to try and imagine what it would be like to braid joy into your writing alongside all that sorrow. Imagine a bay leaf in soup, she said, like keeping a little fragment of joy somewhere in mind and even if it doesn’t end up in the final product, maybe there will still be a trace of it left there.

I was walking with D last summer and we passed a bush and he said I think these are bay leaves. I picked three which I brought with me from California to Massachusetts and they now sit on my dresser,

I’m honestly not even sure if they are really bay leaves, but I guess that’s kind of the point.

Here’s 3rd Street, an important one. Not to be dramatic or whatever but some of the people I owe my life to live on this street. My friend L talks with her hands and her hands start to move faster when she’s trying to express the ideas we don’t have words for. One afternoon this summer we sat at her kitchen table — can you see it through the curtains? — for three hours by accident (one of those kinds of conversations) and she said, this town is way too small for A and your sister, I just feel like they deserve, like, the stars. And the only thing I could think to say was nodding slowly and saying yeah. Yeah

It was at that same kitchen table in January 2018 when L told me if you think you’re in love then you’re in love. We shape and color love through our perceptions, meaning it’s exactly what we believe it is, and if somebody tells you it’s not, well, they must have a different definition of love,,,

In the same way that how we see things stitches together the line of the horizon and the time at which dusk fades into twilight.

D’s horizon is the mountains she woke up seeing out her window every morning, E’s is the scale on a drawing, K’s the line where ocean meets sky and B wrote to me about his: the first, though not only, horizon that comes to mind is more of a skyline. Lights and towers, lights on towers, roll out to the natural horizon. The glow resolves to a soothing yellow that blurs the line where peninsula meets sky.

We’re basically at the other end of town now, that’s how small this place is, you can drive through in one minute. But the school’s here, that classroom with white tiles on the walls is where we read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I remember the poem about clouds and the poem about the four skinny trees that “keep keeping.”

The other day I was walking with M and we got to this old, old juniper tree. We both put our hands on its gnarled trunk wrapped around chunks of granite and she said these trees are the kind of trees that keep keeping, that is what is important in this world

But sometimes just being sounds better than keeping, right?

The pavement of this street looks worn and faded right now, but I promise you when it rains here in the summer it feels like some part of the world is breaking open. In Eastern California people do this funny thing where you go outside and hold up your hands and spin around slowly like wow! We are in the desert! And it is raining!

And like a mirage in that desert where it sometimes rains, poetry isn’t sitting there to be found, you can’t reach out and touch it. Maybe it’s more like we create ways of seeing it, piece it together ourselves,

Come sit down on the red benches / maybe we can learn together.

A photo of a booth with red benches on the side.

Writer | Caelen McQuilkin ’23 |
Editor | Gabby Avena ’25 |
Artist | Etta Gold ’23 |