Hurricane Lamps and Survival Crackers-Amber Jarvis


All the cracks have been filled with a mixture of dust and motor oil and spider webs. The hot sun is stubborn and persistent. You can smell the gravel and grass just outside the door and the cool darkness of the garage is a kind companion as you wait for him to return. His jacket hangs from the rung of an upended rocking chair, a jacket stiff and filthy with necessity and last-minute rescues and pet projects. It smells like sawdust and grease with faint traces of Brut and looks half-inflated by the raw energy of his work.  Here baby food jars nailed to the underside of the shop table are filled with small treasures of purpose – circles to separate, circles to connect. Feel the small jar in a small hand, grip it tight with both to feel the tension build and crack the jar open, bang and scrape small knuckles on something metal and mysterious. The pain rushes hand to mouth. Somehow this helps – the blood and muck mix into a metallic tang that makes a face. A tiny copper spring looks like a magic spell among the dutiful washers. Keep looking, even though you know right where to go. This is where you go when he’s gone away, when you get that feeling and holding onto trees isn’t enough.

You remember how it is to go to the landfill – journey to the end of the world with no one else but him. The truck smells like his jacket plus gasoline, and that broken spring in the seat pokes with every rise and fall. You can see the straw stuffing peek out of the searing black vinyl and wonder how grass grew in the darkness. Jim Croce on the 8-track sings a song to a telephone operator and now he’s whistling, both hands gripping the wheel. You stare and feel that this is how it is to travel in time. He turns and smiles and checks your seat belt. You think of the things you wish you said then and can’t say now.

He tells you to stay in the truck but you get out anyway. The hot stench is a force, and you imagine that birds can’t smell. Their screaming mocks your small body and heavy feet. This is where things start to make sense — in the land of the broken and abandoned. This is where things finally become what they really are, not defined by purpose or expectation. The toaster doesn’t toast anymore, but it is anyway. You wonder how that would feel. You want to see the dogs now and it’s the next stop.

You can hear the barking as the truck pulls into the lot, even over the engine. This is where the broken and abandoned dogs go, but dogs are built for purpose. The fear and love and craving are pooled in limpid pairs, above quick searching tongues. This one is scared of brooms now. This one lost a life-long love to cancer. This one has a crooked ear. You imagine how it would be to take each one home and become their world. There is not enough time. You know he feels this too because he speaks to each dog like an old pal. You are proud of him.

But he’s not here now and it feels good to be still in the quiet cool of his workspace. You know right where to go, to the shelves behind that old sheet stuck up with thumbtacks. There’s an open box of medical supplies that looks like a magic kit. It’s been scavenged for school projects and surprise scrapes, the tongue depressors spilling from torn paper. Brown bottles with strict labels that inspire comfort and awe. Don’t touch that – DANGER.

It’s a big shiny box and when you push on the side you can see your twisted image jump with the metal arpeggio, feel the bounce pop deep under dirty fingertips. Reach inside, avoiding sharp edges with thin wrists feeling fragile and sneaky. You can touch the thin waxed paper crinkle. The box says, “Civil Defense All Purpose SURVIVAL CRACKERS.” They look like they are made of cardboard and smell sweet and bready. Crouch down in the dark and nibble at the corner. Imagine you are in that place at the end of the world, where things become just what they are, where food is for survival. You wonder why you crave this place. You wonder if it feels like romance.


Amber Jarvis was delivered to Manzanita one year past her first visit, after verbally musing about how seeing the ocean every day might shift her psyche. Frankly it was beyond her shadowy imagination to be so fortunate. She’s been walking around in a general state of blissful disbelief for 7 months now, and has grown quite comfortable with that being her permanent state of being.