Phil Kostov

Conquest of Arid America *


The Nation reaches its hand into the Desert.  
The barred doors of the sleeping empire are 
flung wide open to the eager and the willing, 
that they may enter in and claim their heritage!
- William E. Smythe

When God was about to create the first human being, 
then above and below, all creatures began to tremble.
The “genius” solution in the 
1877 Desert Land Act was to 
replace the masculine landscape
with one that could be feminized and 
ready to make the desert bloom.
The spirit drove him west on a 
conquest of arid America where 
godlike whispers turn demonic 
between pleasure and terror,
exploration and destruction,
he writes himself into the landscape, 
definitive speech that erodes inside 
volatile uncertainty, a thorn pulled, 
a river tamed, the hinter edge 
drawn in the sand with a finger.
The tourist gaze, aimless, absorbed 
by the sky, maps and kills, names 
and maims, a grid pressed 
onto ungriddable strata. 
A sign along the Grand Canyon tells you to 
imagine you’re a pioneer on a horse 
coming up on the canyon’s rim 
gazing into the vastness and 
feel the wind in your hair.


If the waves of the sea could flow in
and cover its barren nakedness,
wrote pioneer William L. Manly,
it would be indeed, a blessing.
For whom, the cheap nature of
holding your finger in the dike long enough for the
flood to recede, horse and driver, tossed, both,
into the sea, the surging waters standing like a wall.
About the dams on the Sacramento and Columbia river,
Floyd Dominy, Commissioner of Reclamation: 
There isn't any way to control the river without 
having any tradeoffs, and the salmon, 
unfortunately, was one of the tradeoffs. 
Asked if it was worth it, he smiled,
I think it's worth it, yes, there are substitutes for 
eating salmon, they can eat cake.
The face of the hydraulic aristocracy is 
reflected in every drop of water that 
keeps miles of lawn grasses in 
perpetually preadolescent 
botanical castrati
Who needs fish when you can have 
miles of neighbors glaring at each other
while watering their lawns in the desert?
Colorado Senator Thomas Patterson called 
the federal development of rivers, 
a great pacificator, better than a standing army,
because poor people, instead of causing 
great social disturbances in great cities,
would go West to seek an irrigated farm.


In a nomadic womb 
home is where you stop,
break the cities 
grammars of restraint
in the land of the 
‘just as it is’
all objects appear 
as they are, 
truth in its surface, 
can see but not touch, 
the smiles in a Mcdonalds, 
the desert horizon,
an ocean bed in the open air, 
miracle of easy living 
in an unforgiving landscape, 
lawns, ice, cubed squash,
mausoleum seats designed to 
the anatomy of the womb
daily re-enacted, the miracle of the 
transparency of all functions in space,
where they had to invent the speed 
of prototype cars to cope with 
the absolute horizontality.
Aimless thru the desert in a 
Garden of Eden on Wheels,  
absorbed by space itself, 
pulled by the highway
or propelled by creating a 
vacuum that sucks it forward,
bypassing God’s test of faith
passed the point of no return.


There isn't a sacrifice I can make that compares 
to the eternity of a slow-motion catastrophe
that are the buttes at Monument Valley: 
Blocks of language rising high, their 
pitiless erosion, ancient sedimentations 
that owe their depth to wear.
Where meaning and morals are kept alive artificially
all I can do is laugh at the echo of my own erosion 
swallowed by the remorseless horizon. 
In fermented foods, rotting preserves
and can be lethal, taking us to 
the border of appetite and death.
Photography is no different,
maybe that’s why Americans
say cheese when photographed
as if preparing an idealized
image for preservation.
Defying decay evades capture,
objects project permanence,
the body names and hoards
out of a fear of decay,
an aging book produces poisonous chemicals whose
sweet smells of smoke, hints of almond, pressed 
flowers, the sea, masks its annihilative powers,
like pasture land that masks the desert in 
Frank Mackenzie’s painting 
Making the Desert Blossom.
The poem composed in the 
act of its own decomposition
places us precariously on the edge 
of the annihilative powers of silence.
After a treacherous expedition down the 
Colorado River, John Wesley Powell wrote,
The canyon of Lodore was not 
devoid of scenic interest
even beyond the power of the pen to tell.


The travel guide issued in 1881 by the
Union and Central Pacific Railroads for
passengers bound to San Francisco reads
Board a train of silver palace cars in
the evening and will soon be whirling
away across the Great American Desert.
Fred Harvey, the Civilizer of the West, built luxurious 
way-stations and Indian Detours for tourists meant to 
simulate an authentic Native American experience by 
having actors stage their lifestyle in the desert.
The Fred Harvey Company was sold to Amfac. Inc.
originally known as H. Hackfeld and Company which 
was founded by J. C. Pflueger and his brother-in-law, 
Heinrich Hackfeld, who later became the business agent for 
the Old Sugar Mill of Kōloa, part of the first commercially successful
sugarcane plantation in Hawaiʻi where managers suggesting 
Hawaiian’s have shown complete worthlessness as laborers
and described them as being so strongly 
rooted in their cultural heritage that
centuries, at least, will intervene ere they will
understand that it is a part of their duty
to serve their masters faithfully.

* These poems originally appeared in an earlier version in Dream Pop Journal


Phil Kostov is a transhuman primitivist that was once the size of a corn and now is the size of many corns taped together.