The Pioneers
Jessica Baran

We were odd candidates for grandeur, though we embellished everything, let little go to waste. Our lean-to constructions of pocket-lint materials—ticket stubs, rope, the occasional twig and soda pop top—limply resisted beauty, evoking instead a kind of match-struck causality. When things worked, they did as if in a puff of smoke. When things didn't work, we’d grow that much more weary. We slept above the bones of enemies killed in battle, dreaming the dream and nightmare of encyclopedic knowledge. Specimens collected: grinning spiders, raven-eyes blinking in starry skies, scavenging insects beset by monstrous shadows. How did these animals move through their world? In trysts with hustlers, games of strip poker, encounters on the street; sitting ass-flat at the three-way crossroads of boredom, buffoonery and something imminently dire. Waking, we'd find crude analog mechanisms standing in for us, enacting our all-too-human feelings. When we'd fall sleep once again, a microphone pointed at our head, a nearby un-pressed record on a phonograph would be poised to play back our dreams. That old curiosity shop, a crackpot's studio jammed with junk. Peeping through the windows, seeing the midden of plastic prairie dogs and how-to books, miniature tractors plowing rust, metal hobby planes landing on piles of rosaries. What confronted us eye-to-eye like a knowing sibling, like unsettling road signs? It's all coming back again—at break-neck speed, in a procession of empty black galoshes.