The Gold Spike

joshua tree

I lived in Las Vegas from summer 1991 until September 1992. My first husband was Air Force, stationed at Nellis. We got married my senior year of college (the first gulf war helped me into a bad decision) and I moved out west after I graduated. We lived in an apartment complex on N. Nellis Blvd. It had grass (!) and backed up to a wash. Sometimes I’d see a roadrunner in our parking lot. Dust devils, tumbleweeds, joshua trees… for a girl raised on the shores of the Great Lakes it was quite an adjustment. It was so beautiful and barren. I’d go down to the Mirage to stand by the volcano just to feel water in the air. Then when the rainy season came the wash would fill in a matter of minutes and the desert got this sheen of flowers. Lovely. I remember finding my bearings by which mountain peaks I could see and pulling over to watch planes circle into Nellis. I saw a B2 bomber once. Scary M-F-er, that one. And the heat. The breeze like a hair dryer. I became nocturnal. What a crazy chapter in my life! I’m glad for it, though. The desert really is gorgeous, and the mountains, too.

Although circus clowns
startle me, here even sand
blooms like confetti.


– prose by Jennifer Tappenden & poetry by Heather Lang



Poet’s Note:

Lately, my writing has been inspired by a sense of place, like downtown Las Vegas, and also by what I’ve been reading while drinking iced coffee at PublicUs, a local indie coffeehouse. I’ve just revisited Matsuo Bashō’s (1644-1694) The Narrow Road to the Deep North as translated from the Japanese by Nobuyuki Yuasa. This work is a travel diary featuring haibun: prose laced with haiku.

Although Bashō often wrote both the prose and the poetry himself, I found myself inspired to respond to my dear friend Jennifer Tappenden’s casual yet beautiful letter about her own time in Las Vegas. When she emailed me, Jen had no idea that I might want to use her words for a more public project. At that time, neither did I. The prose is hers exactly as it arrived to me in an email, and I wrote my response, the haiku, after an unforgettable night at the Gold Spike in downtown Las Vegas. This collaboration feels, to me, fitting. Although I moved to Nevada barely one year ago, this place has brought me more friendship than any other.


Heather Lang photoHeather Lang is a poet, literary critic, and adjunct professor. Nevada’s NPR member radio station has twice interviewed her this year about her writing, and in June she served as the Las Vegas Poets Organization’s featured poet. Her writing process is currently on exhibit at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Heather’s poetry and prose have been published by or are forthcoming with HOOT, The Normal School, Paper Darts, Pleiades, and Whiskey Island, among others. Heather holds an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and she serves as an editor with The Literary Review.






Jennifer Tappenden Photo -- Juniper Tree Studio

Photo courtesy of Juniper Tree Studio

Jennifer Tappenden is the founding editor of Architrave Press. She earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Missouri – St. Louis where she also served as the university’s first Poet Laureate. Her poems have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Flyway, Compose and elsewhere. Jen is poetry editor for december magazine, an organizer of both the St. Louis Small Press Expo and UMSL’s Natural Bridge Debut Writers Series. Her chapbook, Independent City, is forthcoming from Wells College Press where she will also be a visiting writer to coincide with its release in the Fall of 2016.


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