Constellation Kingdom

Creative Nonfiction by Francis Rosa / Photography by Tony Dewry

You once lived in clean polished places, gridded and carpeted, where to escape civilization, you would stare at walls late at night, and open bindings of a mothdust book. Where you huddled under blankets that held you like a small bird, and wrapped you in starlight, like the insomniac you were. Here, you just wait for the whirring of generators to fade like a wounded animal. In the ensuing silence, the thought comes to you, like the prick of mesquite, in all that darkness the canyon is somewhere to your left slithering between mesas, curling at the eroded feet of Agua Fria like a diamondback. And if you so chose, you could step forward into the Wild West fantasia of nightfall, oblivion, a Clint Eastwood fairytale, and never be heard from again.

The simplicity of this desert transaction horrifies you, like the ending to a cinematic masterpiece. But the desert wants to tell you something first, clap you on the shoulder, whisper it in your ears. Some closing credits, some epilogue to the ancient books you leafed through in youth. A final chapter of cactus guts, coyote breath, ancient fossilized seabeds tucking prehistoric sedimentary monsters, layer upon layer, into your subconscious. You lean in closer until you have stepped far away from the group still huddled around a gas stove, staring with propane eyes, technicolor vision glued to self-immolating moths, and the phoenix shadows they leave like cigarette burns on the corrugated tin walls. You wander out into the desert moonlight, as if a biblical passage was stuck to the bottom of your boot. And with everyone gone, the desert talks to you in cold sweeps of dust, in fresh insect howls, pulling shivers from your spine like the stringed backbone of a cowboy marionette.

It is somewhere between the third or fourth step toward the rim of these hinterlands that you realize how utterly alone you are, twisting in the wind. Until, looking up by primordial instinct in your moment of doubt you see, like a chandelier anyone can afford, a pane of glowing pebbles letting slip happy rumors of your own insignificance. The pebbles crash at you with the confident speed of light. Yet, you do not feel an impact, not anything but calm as the universe stands there, like an old friend you have been meaning to call and share a drink with for nostalgia’s sake, and stares at you with one trillion eyelids twinkling out to the great beyond. The desert grins and once again you are a child wrapped in a blanket of starlight, fever dreaming like the insomniac you still are.

Francis Felix Rosa is the author of the children’s book Cryptidpedia. His poems and prose have also appeared in Rushlight. He has a BA in Creative Writing & Literature from Wheaton College (MA). In 2018 he was the recipient of Wheaton’s Helen Meyers Tate Memorial Prize for Original Verse. A wandering New Englander, he has spent the last few years traversing the country as an editor, wildland firefighter, AmeriCorps service member, and most recently a volunteer for West Texas’ School of Constructive Arts. He currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After life as a Master Plumber turned expert beer consultant, Tony Dewry has spent the better part of the last ten years exploring in great depth the wild backcountry of Texas, Mexico, and the American Southwest, before landing in the Big Bend region of Far West Texas and Northern Mexico for an extended period. In this time, he's honed his photography while capturing some of the most beautiful scenery and nature that this world has to offer. While the adventures continue, he has begun to share visually some of his favorite captures across multiple mediums, and orally through spoken word and song. He's said that the Big Bend stole his heart at its first chance, but that was the beginning of much more. So stay tuned. His website is