Matt Hill


Sitting with Lizard Lee


Here it is, the second week in February, yet it’s hot enough in this vast saline desert for profuse sweating. The late afternoon breezes are wafting through now, and the fronds on the palm trees that circle the main tank are making a peculiar crinkly noise. Otherwise, except for when the jet fighters roar past on their training runs, the desert stillness feels thick and palpable.

In the heat-frozen moments of the late afternoon, Lizard Lee stands, right arm akimbo, talking softly to a group of newly arrived visitors. He speaks with respect, speaking from the stance of a man who has spent many of his days alone in the desert. He tells the new arrivals that the rules here are few, yet imperative: wash off before entering the tanks; do not enter the source spring; and bring toilet paper when using the pit toilet. As the self-appointed guardian of these hot springs, Lizard Lee functions here as hospitality person & greeter to those visiting these remote springs.

A makeshift lean-to, replete with a torn and faded awning out front, shades him from the 120 degree summer days; however, it does not protect him from the rare storm when it comes through. Lizard Lee survives by way of random visitor donations, and the occasional generosity from the scattered locals. Befitting his name, his leathery skin is reptilian in aspect, the color of burnt umber. Even his head is vaguely wedge shaped. Threadbare cutoffs barely hang on his narrow hips; this would be pretty much all he wears. That and a carved turquoise lizard amulet around his neck.

If asked about himself and his circumstances, Lizard Lee scans the far horizon, his eyes searching deeply for a focus point to lockdown his stare. Silent moments will slide by before he speaks; then, with the few words uttered, he only refers to the stark eloquence of the desert surroundings. This because Lizard Lee does not own a past; or have any desire to grasp an illusory and comfortable future. For Lizard Lee has but one home – the river-of-time moments he lives through in this mostly silent place. He seems made for this desert, in the sense that individuals anxious to recover their spirit, their strength, make out for the desert places, and end up staying there.

While the visitors lay low during the blasting hot afternoon hours, occupying the few shaded areas, Lizard Lee rocks slowly in his hammock, absorbed with listless daydreams of Her. He revisits that brief life they shared together, that life left unfulfilled. If only; yes if only. No amount of insistent regrets can return him to those breezy sunny days, back when the love flowed and life was full of joy. If only that semi-famous musician, his name long forgotten, had not put the charm moves on her backstage that night. They had inexplicably just disappeared into the hot Hollywood night, with him left looking for her in a panic for hours.

Never again would Lizard Lee witness the subtleties of her sparkle and shine. Like a wispy cloud on a summer’s day, she had just evaporated. Many years later, when someone had tactlessly showed him the obit clipping, he recalls only turning away, getting in the car, and driving for days throughout the pain-absorbing desert scapes.

And now, here in this presently still moment, with the sun slipping into the western horizon, past the saw-toothed Inyo range starkly cast before him, Lizard Lee sighs a deep hard sigh, clears his throat, and once more slides from the hammock as he rises to greet the latest group of visitors driving up, the dust from the desert road swirling in a long wake behind them.


Matt Hill: Still residing in Northern California, Matt Hill is a sculptor and poet working within the process known as Disjunctive Synthesis. A new poetry ebook, Amalgamated Fragments, is forthcoming by Differentia Press, December, 2013.


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MadHat, Issue 15, Winter 2013-2014