AMERICAN

STRANGERS

by Hannah Rogers

Dear Bureau of Land Management,

​It is as simple as the following: on a hillside trail outside Yuma that I have climbed to get a better look at your latest permitting of a private fracking operation, what is under a birder’s hat tells me that you employed him at graduation, as soon as he got his citizenship. His parents lived right over the line in Old Mexico and his mother wanted to live on this side because she liked the steady freezer temperatures, something about intermittent electricity. All that must have been in the ‘60s from the looks of things, but this week some ties from D.C. are up to look for land no one does anything on so the taxes haven’t be paid—maybe ever. They’ve come to collect, but everyone figures it will be federal or auctioned, and he is thinking you should get it all: it’s been wild so far he says— why should that change?

Dear NASA,

I met you for the first time in Huntsville in the 6th grade and all I remember was one father’s suggestion that some of the adults on the overstaffed overnighter could skip the rocket-shaped chicken and take lunch at Hooters. Now my students are begging me to bring them to you. Wallops Island is not so far from the geese-wintering refuge, so the scorched earth your private enterprise left on our collective property seems like a good lesson. The surprise is the flight director, Lyndi, about my age, who presses her tortoise-shell headband into her temples as the field trip coordinator says, the professor would like you to tell them about the day of the accident. The students leaned forward, but I lean back away from the badge dangling over her elbow when shyness crosses her arms.

Dear FAA,

This possibility really never occurred to me. I knew it could happen, but I assumed I would be at home. I pictured my own comforter, my own ringed tub. Certainly I thought I could stretch out. The woman on the plane beside me works for you. She’s a wildlife biologist and she takes away all the food birds might like around airports so your flocks don’t encounter their flocks. She grew up in Brussels but met an American professor on sabbatical. She’s asleep now, with her blond dreadlock-beads clicking quietly against the window. She already told me how she is glad she didn’t have children because it makes her transfer from Denver to Miami much easier. I guess I don’t look pregnant to her and in a few hours I won’t be. Was this your way of preparing me?
 

Dear Las Vegas, 

Louis says you are a great place to live, but I don’t think we’d get along judging from your signs: “3.50 Bottles” and “Girly Girls Inside.” Louis has been in the sign shop for 40 years, or at least that is how long he has been in the sign business. Some of the lights border wedges that will become the corners of green martini glasses, other are the way we will all be able to see the bronco rider’s hat. Louis went to art school when it was okay to make money making art. Louis says if he retires, he’d like to go to the cathedrals in France and maybe do a painting of a demon sculpture. He saw in one on public t.v. They called it Daemon and it worked like a piling— holding up the little fence around the pulpit. Louis thinks a photo of the painting might work really well for his teenage grandson’s next birthday gift.

Dear Highway 431,

I woke up to being in the back of a car with you, gliding pasts the shadows of trees. The distance moving slowly onward,the grass and fence rhythmically passing by with the jazz on my father’s favorite tape. Why do closer things pass faster than things in the distance? Alabama always moves slowly away from me, except when I’m at home, then my cousins and five puppies, bound out of the back of pick-up trucks in their new-for-winter coats and before I know it they are disappearing down the driveway. When I look out over the Millpond, I cannot tell if light moves faster than sound. The birds calling to the sky are connected to it, the colors, their songs intertwined and simultaneous. My only confirmation is that I will miss my brother’s face first, and later his voice, his 17 year-old wisdom announcing he is sure there’s something for him elsewhere, beyond the pine rows, past the water tower, down a little road to you.
 

Dear Coast Guard,

When I talk to you, we are walking in the bright field of the mind, fringed by pines with low familiar blooms, flying insects all around, so when you say I love you, I become aware of the sunlight and what it does to the water and of you handling the stones into a harbor, the moss hardly touches the white paper boat, and the water resolves around it.

 

​During the summer of 2015, we held our second Flash Fiction Contest with 
Amy Hempel serving as judge. This story is one of Amy's winning selections.

 

 

Hannah Star Rogers received her Ph.D. at Cornell University on the intersection of art and science. She teaches writing at Columbia University and the University of Virginia. Her poems and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, The Carolina Quarterly, Catch & Release, and The Southern Women’s Review. She has received the National Park Service writing residency in both Acadia, Maine and the Everglades, FL. 

 

 

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