“I always try to capture something more about where I'm from. But I want desperately to capture the essence of the Mojave Desert in Las Vegas. It gives me a lot of material. There's a lot of push and pull in Las Vegas. Especially being a religious person..."
When he was young, the choir boy went with his father out into the Desert. They climbed a dusty ridge and watched the sun rise. Everything looked clean and sharp in the early air. The boy watched the progression of the sky: black to purple to white. Against the horizon, he could see the silhouettes of cacti and hoodoos.
“What do you see?” His father asked.
The choir boy didn’t answer, but looked out over the barren land and followed the cracks in the earth. Together, they watched as a falcon caught a desert wind between his feather fingers. He extended his arms, coasted elegantly, and then suddenly tucked in. The bird plummeted towards the sand. The choir boy watched breathless and then felt safe when the falcon skewered a lizard with its feet.
“Can you see God?” His father prompted.
The boy looked again. He saw the Desert and how it stretched outward and forever. The sky looked impossible and wide open above the land. For the first time, he thought that maybe the Earth wasn’t holding up the sky but the sky crushing down the Earth.
“I see freedom.” The choir boy said. He sat in the dust, amongst the animal skulls, and used his finger to trace out his initials.
“Son,” his father interrupted. “God is everywhere, especially where it seems impossible. There is life even in this Devil’s land. Where there is life, there is faith.” His father slid his foot in the dust, rubbing out his son’s initials. A wind came up and scattered the rest away.
“Look there,” His father continued. “Do you see how the rocks point to Heaven?”
The boy saw. He watched as the sun moved up in the sky.
“Higher and higher.” The choir boy said. His voice became breathy and light.
“Son!” His father admonished.
As the sun rose higher, a butte eclipsed it, cutting in like a knife. The sun bled light around the chilled rock, flaring out and open until only a wire-thin strip of shadow could be seen against the wounded radiance.
“Down to the wire.” The boy said. His voice extended, riding an arid desert sigh into a song.
“I’m going to make it out of this fire.”
“Son!” His father said harshly. “Pay attention. When you sing you must only sing of God, when you sing you must sing only with piety.”
The choir boy looked at his father. His eager eyes had a glow.
“In church, I sing of God. I will always sing of God.” He said. He bent down and scraped up dust from the ground. He held the dirt up in cupped hands, showing it to his father.
“But I want to sing of other things, too.”
The choir boy’s father shook his head.
“I want to sing the desert.”
“How?” His father asked, amused.
“I will pray.” The choir boy promised.
His father laughed. He reached to the pendent hanging around his neck. It was a bird bone, fragile and hollow. It also was a piece of the desert, a trophy from a coyote den. The choir boy’s father put it around his son’s neck.
“Blow.” He commanded. The son put the bone to his lips and sang into it. His breath through the pipe made a dry, slivered sound: sharp and nearly broken.
“It doesn’t sound a thing like Jesus.” He said.
“No.” His father answered. “It sounds like the desert.” He began to walk away, back down the ridge and towards home. For a moment, his son watched him.
When he could no longer see his father, the boy blew into the bone again. Its voice whistled out into the air and then faded. He listened to the ghost of the sound and tried to mimic it. His voice wasn’t quite right. The boy tried again and again but always he couldn’t make himself sound like wind through a bird bone. His voice was too clear, too cold: like city glass. Bending down, he scraped up more desert sand. He held it in his hand; it felt rough against his choir boy palms.
Making his decision, the boy brought his hands up to his mouth and ate the desert sound.