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Staves of Smoke

from 6. Staves of Smoke by Disparition




ash falls on tile, on paper, on skin

ash enters our windways as a poison, and enters the earth as a nutrient

carved stone sculpture of an open hand, embers collecting in the palm

they spin and rise

walk among ashes as though in a sacred courtyard – unarmed, naked, empty of song or idea

walk among ashes as though barefoot into the wetlands, sinking and becoming

the ending and beginning of the worlds in their millions, ashes rise from the ground in a cloud, the cloud fades into the sky and pulls back into the distance

the shapes and forms that emerge into visibility
are shaking, secretly and inwardly
nervous, unsure how to approach

clouds that choke and clog our passageways with memory. once, from distances, this scent could pull us for miles towards the solace of warmth and comradery. In the age of paper the scent is mixed with fear and imbalance.

the clouds grow. we walk by day in ochre and fall to stillness as the veil disintegrates around us, asleep in beds of amber, washing up on their shores.


He bought the little glass jar at a tourist trap in the Temple Pass, the tiny city they used to call Casa de Fruita and then the Nine Times City. Yes, the place where Faita’s Kite still lies in pieces up on the hillside. Yes, the same place where they still fly in the night. That place. The little glass jar was etched with the image of a poppy. Yes, that poppy.

He filled the little glass jar with soil from the shore of the ancient resevoir, a thin column dry and loose at the top, wet and dense at the bottom, he spread it out upon his tile and ran it through the sieves before funnelling it into the little glass jar with the etching of the poppy.
He was heading east against the flow, a direction that called attention, all the way across the valley he kept his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his robe, his head low, his thoughts a pure reflection of the landscape and vibration in the area immediately surrounding. A slow and silent mirror creeping along the overgrown upper paths of the Eightyway, he encountered few – and those he met, or rather saw, seemed as eager to avoid the mark as he. And so they passed each other with no acknowledgement, each giving wide berth and then erasing all shade and memory of encounter. Still, without quite realizing it, he had one set of fingers tightly clutched around the little jar full of earth with the etching of a poppy.

They stopped him soon after he entered the foothills. He had left the road by then but it didn’t matter. From atop a low ridge he had stopped to watch figures throwing logs across the way at Clipper Gap as travellers lined up outside of a tent by the side of the road. On the approach to Applegate they surrounded him in a clearing, a pickup and SUV in front of him and another pickup behind. They poured out of the vehicles. He took his phone out of his pocket – yes even at that late hour he still had a phone. A gloved hand grabbed it and threw it into the field while someone pinned his arms from behind and then kicked his legs out from under him. Then another hand forced his face into the ground and a voice was calm and close in his ear : “you can simply dissappear”. More hands pulling at his robes, tearing it from his body and then ripping the pockets open.

Someone picked him up so that he was kneeling but kept a hand on the back of his head, forcing his to the ground. They were going through everything and setting certain items aside on the hood of one of the pickups – even in this chaos he was attuned to the sound. The small leather tube containing the writ, the cutter, the digger, his canteen, the small glass full of soil from the ancient resevoir, the sieves, the tile.

One of them gave a stifled yelp. They had found his eggs. He expected them to smash the eggs in an act of mocking cruelty and was surprised to see shells fall silenty to the ground as the eggs were eaten quietly and hurriedly by whoever spotted them.

As he watched the shells fall he noticed their bootprints on the ground, the cross at the center of the pattern, and felt a cold dull pain rising at the base of his spine as his stomach began to churn. Wolves of Honor. He thought he had steered well north of their territory but things changed fast and information wasn’t what it used to be. All of the old maps were dead. Silent but nearly paralyzed with fear, they walked him over to the SUV and strapped him into a hard fiberglass seat in the back.

He didn’t know much about the Wolves of Honor, but he had seen comrades with that cross pressed into their face or back, seen the broken hands and missing fingers, he’d heard the rumours about what had they had done to Jesse, what they had done in Truckee. That was enough.

They were in motion almost immediately. The straps made it hard to turn his head, and a bare wooden board seperated him from the front of the cab. With pressure he could twist and see partially out of the window to his right, where the trees were getting thicker and the sky darker. Soon they were climbing steeper hills, winding back and forth into the Sierra, and he had to face forward to keep from getting sick. Eventually, he closed his eyes.

They stopped at a low, small building on the edge of a small and steep ravine. When they pulled him out they light was almost gone but he could feel the form of the land, run himself over the jagged stone hidden beneath soft layers of life and death.

They brought him into a small gray room partitioned by crude brickwork and thick, dull glass. In the tubelight he could see their piecemeal uniforms, the longrifles on their backs, their pins and patches, wolves and stormclouds, eagles and runes, the flag of the old empire with the five bars and the stars replaced by a cross.

Two stood behind him, hands on his shoulders. Three sat at an ancient folding table. Through layers of glass he saw several other figures crowded into a tiny room at the far end of the building, shrouded in white, their movements hindered by some binding he couldn’t see. The blur of the glass masked their faces but they looked like elders, and they were swaying gently back and forth.

The Wolves pushed him down into an old school chair that was bolted to the floor and bound him to it. Someone came in holding what was left of his robes and a duffel bag. With gloved hands they slowly removed his belongings and placed them on the table, the sieves, the tile, the cutter, the digger, his canteen, the small glass full of soil from the ancient resevoir, the small leather tube containing the writ.

One of the soldiers behind the desk produced a clipboard overstuffed with white, yellow, and pink papers and carbon sheets. Yes, the triplicates of legend. In hushed tones they debated intracacies of the paperwork among themselves. He could hear them but their jargon was impenetrable. One by one they picked up the items, gestured at the forms and eventually filled out various sections, their tone and faces muted with boredom. When they came to the leather tube, they stopped as if afraid to touch it. Then one of them slowly stood and ambled outside.

A heavy space lay on the room and all inside its partitions. The drone of the tubelight was the only sensation. Even the prisoners had stopped their swaying. The remaining Wolves stared ahead, eyes dulled. He scanned the walls, the ancient forms and notices still held up with tape, indecipherable graffiti in three languages, a crude drawing of Mia Marisol with her eyes crossed out and a snake coming out from her mouth. Could have been done by the Wolves or by any number of previous occupants; her name had been anethema in this part of the mountains long before their arrival.

The wind began to pick up outside. A sound of leaves and creaking branches filtered through the brick work. Then the door opened quickly and a group of soldiers came in. They wore the same patches as the other Wolves but their armor was more uniform, they were heavy with clinking gear, they smelled of woodsmoke.

One of them picked up the leather tube from the table and popped it open, then held the writ close up to their face, folded it in half, and stuffed it into a pocket. “Outside, and bring all his shit.”

Two of them got up from behind the table, languid, slow, one of them pausing to stretch. They unstrapped him, lifted him roughly from the chair, rebound his hands behind his back; three went outside and then the two behind pushed him, following.

Outside the dark was total and the wind strong. A floodlight above the door of the building shone on the gravel drive and reflected off of parked trucks. They all stopped just a few feet in front of the door. The soldier who had taken the writ was addressing the others: “He’s got a Writ of Gomez. Do you guys know what that is?” almost yelling to keep above the wind.

“You should know what that is because we signed this. In fact, every chapter of Knights on the coast has signed it. McCora signed it, I was there when he did, and that means us. Now, I want to show you guys something. I’m going to show you how these people work and how to turn their own snake language against them.”

The soldier turned to address him directly: “Gentle traveller, do you know the meaning of the term ‘to abide’?”

In the silence the wind grew stronger.

“You see in this writ it says that you are to ‘abide’. Specifically it says you are to abide by the structure of those realms you cross. Realms. Well, we aren’t a realm we are a republic, and in our republic we abide in Christ. Don’t worry, I already know you don’t. I already know that. But it says you are to abide by our strictures, and it turns out you don’t even abide by your own. How do you think we found you? Take a wild guess.” From the same pocket in which the writ was folded, his phone was produced. One of them must have gone into the field to find it.

“I don’t know a lot about how you people do things but I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to have this. You don’t look like a Bubbler to me. And you definitely aren’t supposed to have it here.” The phone went back into the pocket.

“And so we have you. Now, I know, we all know, what it is to trespass – because we are all sinners. The most we can do is ask forgiveness. To ask forgiveness, you have to accept Christ into your heart. Only then can you begin to abide – only then will it be in your nature to abide. Please kneel.”

Someone kicked him hard in the back of the legs, heavy hands on his shoulders forced him down. He whimpered as his knees were driven into the gravel, the first sound he made in their presence. With his hands behind his back he couldn’t balance on his own, the two behind him holding him semi upright.

The wind had grown stronger. Dry needles and small branches were blowing across the drive. One of the Wolves had gone back into the building and returned with the duffel bag, then one by one began tossing the items onto the ground. The sieves, the digger, the porceilein tile landed on a corner that chipped off. One of the sieves rattled as it rolled away down the slope.

“Here’s our solution, and you don’t know how lucky you are that we’re in the middle of something right now. So, it’s simple. You will open your heart and accept Christ, you will abide in Christ so long as you remain on our land, we will let you take your little witch toys and walk away because they don’t do shit here. The illegal spy device that you brought into our republic will be cleansed and destroyed by the proper method, the writ of Gomez we will keep until we have observed you leaving our territory – it will then be sent to your superiors, the old way, and with our seal attached. Now, to show our faith we will unbind you so that you may place your hand over your heart. Please do so.”

At that moment the little glass jar landed badly on a rock and shattered. Immediately the wind picked up the dust of the ancient resevoir, it circled in the air around the drive and fled into surrounding the darkness. It was then enough confidence returned and, triggering an aged memory, enough power entered him that words rose quitely in his throat and flew into the air: “may you sit for all of your days in the southwest corner of every room with a northwest wind blowing dust in your eyes.”

They had not yet unbound his hands and they never did. One of them punched him hard in the stomach and then again in the chest. He struggled to breathe. They forced him upright, marched him back into the building, opened the layers of doors to the tiny room with the elders shrouded and white, and threw him to the floor. His hands still bound behind his back, a boot pressed down on them, then kicked him in the lower back, then stopped. They were furious, but hurried – there was something odd about their speed. They closed and locked the door and then shut off lights in the outer rooms, then there was another clanking of bolts as they locked the last door from outside. Then the sound of engines and the crunch of wheels on gravel as they left. And then the wind outside, the breaking of branches, the hum of the one flickering tubelight they had left on in the tiny room.

As his breathing regained some normal rhythm and the pain began to subside, he managed to turn himself onto his other side. He had thought the room crowded with prisoners but it must have been some trick of the glass – there were only two. He recognized them immediately, the ancient teachers who had wandered the valley of Joachim and the Sierra in the chaos and the liquid days. One of them came from Fresno, the other Chico. As soon as they saw the recognition in his eyes, they looked at one another and, as though he were not present, began their Discourse. Outside, the emberse had already begun to fall.

“Was this wise, what our young traveller has done? Look where he finds himself – bound and defeated. If one is caught in a current, it is unwise to swim directly against it” said the Teacher of Fresno

“You must have failed to look into the eyes of our captors” remarked the Wise One of Chico, “our traveller has spread a fear into them. The fear will take them – maybe not this moment, or this day, but it will be their defeat.”

“It wil not be the defeat of all of them. These people, these Wolves, they are a hairs breadth from the witch burnings and pogroms of old. To use such a curse, is to incur a debt. Howsoever that fear is spread, it will return upon him and not just him, but on all of his people, on those who are bound to him by love and knowledge, and on those who depend on their kindness, and so on across the webs between us all. Not every seed takes root but the one that does will break all the soil and drink all the water of the field” responded the Sage of Fresno.

“And that of which you speak is that which must be done, the soil wil be broken and the water will be drunk, as we leave from the age of fields and enter into an age of the forest” opined the Aged One of Chico.

“Does this transition need to occur without wisdom or foresight?” asked the Learned One of Fresno “and with such dire consequence for those caught in the margins? Those with less power will suffer for what he has thrown into the wind. To move from one age to the next is unavoidable, but is it so much to ask that this be done with sensitivity, and with precision? As reality shatters can we not watch our step, that we are not cut by the flying shards?”

To which the Elder of Chico responded “Look down on the forests of tomorrow, which grow as did the forest of yesterday. Do you see it placed upon a grid?”

The teacher of Fresno was consumed in a pillar of light.

The teacher of Chico faded into the ether.

Outside, the windws carried ash and ember and the distant sounds of chainsaws and of logs being thrown across the roads.


There will come a day when you look up to find the sky full of machines – heavy and strange, objects that don’t look like they should fly. Like pieces of them are breaking away and falling slowly, drifting down like steel feathers.

There will come a day when you condense all of your feelings into your fingertips until they glow and you will scrape them against the air leaving bright traces, and you will be unable to hide those traces before you are seen – was that the first time?

Think back over the dreams you have had throughout your life.

Focus on what you have seen again and again.

Not the people, not the events, not even the feeling – not exactly. Look around you. Circle around and above.

The room, the space, the architecture, the geography, the design, the living and unliving things and the balance between them.

Focus on where you have been again and again.

What are the settings you return to in dreams that you have never seen in the life you call “real”?

The intersections, the hallways, the parks, the transit systems, the view out of and into windows.

Focus on what you have seen again and again.

Do not let yourself be led astray by the temptations of literary symbolism – the roads and bridges that we see in dreams are not metaphors, they are infrastructure.

These are the marches, the borderlands, the high and distant domes of our temples are held aloft by pillars of smoke. That which happens here echoes and ripples. Currents wrap themselves around you.

Focus on where you have been again and again.

How is it possible that these memories have entered so deeply into you, the details of places you have never physically entered, this sense of routine and repetition

How is it possible the drone of machines and weight of their distance, their journey across the upper atmosphere has covered you in your sleep like a blanket all these years

Think back on the dreams you have had over and over in your life, and think on the dream you are in now

Invisible and floating in a photonegative world, awake and waiting the painted masks, the order of keys, the pulling line. Three blue diamonds buzz against glass in the light of dawn.

There will come a day when you glide just above the fields and the ground will drop from beneath you, the valley and its twisting currents far below, shrouded in mist.


from 6. Staves of Smoke, released October 12, 2020
written and performed by Jon Bernstein




Disparition Los Angeles, California

Electronic, ambient, industrial, found sounds, beats, piano.

Inspired by history, geography, travel, occult, fiction.

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