• 2020 Volume 15
One Simple Step
Anna Jiricko


There is something unsettling about losing the ability to breathe. The air escapes like a punch to the gut and you’re left unsure of what just happened. When I was 14 years old, I lost my breath. 

When I was growing up, I remember my father talking about our wilderness trips and a worst case scenario; if I lost my way, or if my brother broke his leg in a canyon. The pocket where we kept the car keys became an instinct, and using the satellite phone became as intuitive as walking. The fear of these theoreticals helped prepare me to lead ventures into unknown territories where there is no one else for miles and miles. There is nothing else I want more. 

It is a brisk Thanksgiving day in Ghost Rider Canyon in Arizona, a route that I traveled hundreds of times. I go down first on my favorite rappel that stretched 80 feet and is tucked in a corner of the pale limestone. I take in the stunning view that felt just as impressive as the first day I had seen it.

While packing up the ropes, the words, “what is that?” spoken by my mother in a shaky voice will bring about chills whenever I hear them. “Is that a foot” followed. A steady pulse in my head became deafening as my heart lurched out of my chest considering whether or not the shape in the distance was an old car bumper. I find my gaze crossing paths with a mangled pair of legs crushed over the limestone wearing blue jeans and loose socks which poke out behind a bush that isn’t dense enough. My father took cautious steps towards the torso to make sure there was no breath. “It’s a dead body.” 4 simple words. 

Within that moment I am a popped balloon, the air vacating my lungs leaving me silent. I am paralyzed. Within a split second the familiar wilderness, which I spent so many years in cultivating my love for adventure with my family, had become overtaken with panic, doubt, and fear. The wild refuge filled with countless childhood memories with my older brother had been overrun with ominous shadows. 

Once the world started spinning again, the air came rushing back, and I let out a sob. My mother’s arms extended around me in a fleeting effort to hide the body. Walking down the canyon, I trip over my own feet questioning if the man knew how much pain his death brought me. The thoughts became darker and darker until I made the conclusion that I too would be killed that day in that canyon along with my family left alone to be found by yet another unfortunate thrill seeker.

My thoughts shifted towards him; Was it suicide? Did he fall? What was he doing? Why wasn’t he prepared? What if he was murdered? Who else is going to cry at this news?

The police report we received weeks later answered fewer questions than I would have liked. My parents told me an older man without family who loved photography simply fell. All that pain for one simple misplaced footstep.

Later I returned to that area again to complete another canyon that stretched over three miles and had thousands of feet of elevation gain. Cherry Canyon contained twelve repels all varying in length which takes all day invested in the process. I have the slightest hesitation going down first looking to make sure there is nothing but limestone and vegetation below me, or the slightest hesitation turning a corner while backpacking. Sometimes there is a skip of my heart beat when I see anything out of place in the wild, but it is short-lived. My brother’s loud dorky nature quickly diverts my attention and as we laugh, the moment passes.

Artwork by Lily Roberts


Pedal Gracefully


The petals will be sand in my rain jacket pocket.
They lick dryly against the polyester static
in the zipped cell set flat against my chest.
I was taught to leave them until they
shriveled by their own means, the only pressure
my movement, my legs gliding through circles
on the spokes of my droplet-dotted bicycle in evening’s rain,
the jerks and shifts to avoid senseless puddles threading waves,
energy, loops of ice pebbles
up through my muscles, startling my core
and promoting the slight saunter, delayed erosion
of the curled-up, cocoon shape of decay
beyond replenishment dangling
in my hidden pocket.

When I feel their knots and spikes
jutting slightly against the thin, glossy fabric of my coat
to skim my chest, I know that their abrasion
counts on more than the donut circulation
of pulses in my legs, the swaying of my torso
set on an evening of shades lighter than gray
but softer, less blinding than white:
an evening where my head moves from ground
to overhead, to every side as lustrous cars,
colors of maroon, navy, black,
ripe cherry
paint strokes of my reflection beating by.
The people on the sidewalk
glance down at their puddle-tinted soles
though inside their heads feel nothing close to dread.

When I halt by the sidewalk, slip off my bike,
tumble on sleekness,
When I rush through the black metal
gates, dripping and shedding minced tile slates,
trickling beetle skins of paint to the garden,
my hand hesitant as it hovers before my chest,
I think to
pinch the crinkling petals of the tulip
which once sat dry above dampened dirt
that had not yet turned to mud. I remember there was
a fresh series of days when stems cascaded white silk,
were ruffled against softly by brown rabbits,
so delicately skipping, wisping their rain-stained,
acute triangle noses
against flourishing roots and petal skins, glazed by a natural
film of strawberry milk, frosted white or evergreen-mist blue.

Never bring fingers
like pennies
of frozen plush
to a dry, wrinkled yellow stem:
a stem that may wiggle, hold on
but proceeds to crack.

Art: Flower Fossil by Grace Baranko



Born anew in elasticity, beige and borrowed,
I bathe in barrels of crimson wine
Until it stains in droplets of sacrament on my skin,
Unrelenting, like ashen sediment.

I bathe in barrels of crimson wine
In drunken baptisms veiled by vapor haze.
Unrelenting, like ashen sediment,
My morals bleed in the eggshell of stolen scriptures.

In drunken baptisms veiled by vapor haze,
Could I distill what drapes above in a sole stream?
My morals bleed in the eggshell of stolen scriptures,
Like ink tarnishing cobalt-stained glass.

Could I distill what drapes above in a sole stream?
Its contents coursing, intravenous and acute,
Like ink tarnishing cobalt-stained glass.
I exist outside of solemn syllables and damning.

Its contents coursing, intravenous and acute,
I’m ridden with rituals composed of moss and memory.
I exist outside of solemn syllables and damning,
Evergreen and unforgetting.

I’m ridden with rituals composed of moss and memory,
Curiosity like venom dispersed in opaque milk.
Evergreen and unforgetting,
Do I fear both the life I live and its residue?

Curiosity like venom dispersed in opaque milk,
I feel tangible when speaking in what is not said,
Do I fear both the life I live and its residue?
Sordid in silence, an apple in my teeth.

I feel tangible when speaking in what is not said,
Like how blind blends into midnight with ease.
Sordid in silence, an apple in my teeth,
The remnants of the Sistine chapel on my palm.
Like how blind blends into midnight with ease,
At the week’s closure, I lament and wash away
The remnants of the Sistine chapel on my palm,
Calloused from judgment’s embers.


Art: Angel by Anthony Sanchez

Ramesses II


I used to lounge on the Nile flood plain
to watch the river churn and cut the sands,
and to think how people cheered
for my glory long ago
and now there is only the same glory to cheer for.
Yes, I was great;
I saw it in the flames,
the cascades of shifting bodies in the streets,
proud of swordsmen, land-winners,
fledgeling charioteers.
For them I was enigma,
Ramesses, the Great Ancestor, the god
who tinkered in the life-forge.

But sulking at the Nile bank, I saw rocks
moved and smoothed and shattered, simple water
ravaging the earth, and my mind sprung
up and asked the gods to let me
become water, so Ra told me,
smirking, I was a man.

Yes, I was a man, but maybe
if I climbed high enough
I would be a man emancipated
from the anchors of the world.
Yes, I was a man, but I was a man
deserving, and for years
I climbed the climb to power.

In the seventh year I summited, stumbling
in the sky-wind as gods blew
out their lungs to sound
a warning over the winds, calling
you are no god, just
one speck
on Ta Dehent. Nothing around.
No yielding soldiers, complacent
prince, palace, throne,
glory. Sand. There was sand and I wilted
into it. I took to the tomb.

Now, at night the Nile is not mine;
the red sky sees an empire
and a man in the gloom stands
with a pensive lean.
I am granite; I cannot turn;
neither of us can see the other’s eyes.
In the prelude to boundlessness,
marble does not freeze him,
though his body
mocks me. He forgets
how it is to have everything
and still for the world to spin

Art: Destruction by Jade Wilson