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Postcards from Air

I want the word for “to not map, ever” —Graham Foust

We are more alike than we knew. We are always smiling, or so the old thyroid patient’s joke goes. Repetition does not scare me, though silence does. The absence of wind, of passage, unnerves the best of us. We expect something to topple. Seen from above the open vocal cords appear an eye taking in the light of a hesitant mouth. After each procedure, the question is do you still have the nerves to speak?

Fog, my favorite weather. Banked ambiguity. Gesso on a frozen city. This binds. What adheres in dream does not always grow. We cannot retrace our steps. Caution was once a word for bail. As if we had done something wrong, the boats were sinking. The surface tension broken by the first fire of the fall.

North of here, byproducts burn off. Distill the wastes of us. Precipitate so fine it does not settle as salt. It disperses, flocks the neighborhoods around it as spores. Year-round snow lovely as cottonwood molt. Ashes to ashes. Our aerosol history.

Susan Stewart writes, “Yet air is the element most bearable . . . most bearable to every mortal thing.”

I was wrong to take the mirror from the room. My first night home, my voice failed, rattled. Loose muffler. Kick the can. I looked for a point of departure, inflamed sound valley where there was only flesh. Geography and flesh. We are not immune to erosion. We trace.


Hanford Smile

Downwind Grin

Nevada Necktie

Great Basin Bloodsport

What alliteration and colloquialism fail to capture is the first time one hums to oneself, fresh out of anesthetic, just to see what the new voice sounds like. There is a distinct hollowness. Unmistakable rattle. Part of the intubation remains. Breathing around breath.

High Pressure System

for children

and children’s children

there is no memory


precognitive mantra

without which

no baseline

no breath in


valley autoclave

you taste metal


from the outside in


the sound

of winter


no place for a child

map insists

easy cartography

take the aerial view

take the high horse


I ask for the tissue back. It is with pathology. I ask again. This breaks protocol. It and I will take the same path home, but it will continue on. A dozen miles north. There, in the incinerator, it will become particulate, aerosolized, with all the needles, gowns, clotted blood and disposables of remission. It is reduced to grey that falls on neighborhoods around the facility. Inside these homes, the rates of leukemia, brain cancer, and other rarities in children will rise, ride the thermals of the burn. Healing capitalized, perpetuated. During research on the facility, I watch them play in their yards. Throwing snowballs. Arms and legs swinging in the drifts as if they might ascend. I have never felt such a failure.


Michael McLane is the director for the Center for the Book at Utah Humanities. He is an editor with both saltfront: studies in human habit(at) and Sugar House Review. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including High Country News, Dark Mountain Project, Western Humanities Review, and Colorado Review. b. 1980

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