A Look into "Thin Air"

October 25, 2016


Flagstaff, Arizona. The farthest place I could get away from home, and the best place I could ever imagine to be inspired.

With its mountains and endless blue sky, it’s the opposite of the place I grew up in. The grey, damp, clustered city. With its endless cracked sidewalks, the constant rush of the coming and going. The steel city.

Writing in a place where you feel so connected, so in touch with yourself and at peace with the rest of the world has truly been something more than an experience. It’s changed everything. While there may be less to look at, there is so much more to think about and, in turn, to write about.

There are plenty of writers who have been through Flagstaff, written about Flagstaff, but very few who have been from here. Lived here. Embedded themselves into this tiny town.

However, Thin Air Magazine, operated by Northern Arizona University, published a piece not too long ago by a writer who lives and writes here. His name is Matthew Johnstone and this is one of his poems:


People called coyotes

will take you across,

                                                                                  highways will have roses

to stray the hell, no

one says animals

veer at name, how

this blurry dust field

home ends,


                    the wend fell us moving

                    white light aside, why

                    men wear the names of

                    animals down their

                    fronts, as cooks,


                                   or pitch their bodies, down

                                   to what, a method of state,

                                   no walking at to where is

                                   away, season seen onto

                                   the eye, then this true

                                   else is our nor, down


rows of shoulders, how border

share us down to none, we, an

act, leak at field, that or as

far as collapsing in directions,

coasts, that include, eyes


                                            in the sun blurred bodies,

                                            gave and met, and ripped

                                            apart, us and out into

                                            them slowing, to suggest

                                            we easily become else to,

                                            speak in these, breaths that

                                            hung from mustache


                                                                            through chain link

                                                                            fence, snaking inland,

                                                                            near here the field,

                                                                            remains horses, bones

                                                                            curled on their sides

                                                                            atop floating pollen,


                                                      blind though edgeless, as west,

                                                      were stupid to further, the

                                                      lice white suns the sky apart so

                                                      sky in this ravine makes little

                                                      sense, they handfuls in sightless,

                                                      search where were there no



                    You are calling this canyon   

                    Tricky Wash

                                  choking thousands, no

                                  animal asks you why the

                                  sun speaks a synonym of

                                  us, anywhere earth not

                                  become ours, cars that

                                  press against one

                                  another, no coyote,


the more you look someone

has no eyes

in the eyes


While I was unable to find enough time to interview him—though it would have been a pleasure—I was able to read and then reread this particular piece, and it has become one of my favorites. Not just from Thin Air, but from anywhere.

Not only because it embodies what it means to write about Flagstaff, and all its wonder, all its history and mystery, but also because the language, the motion of this piece seems to be very like the way that the community moves here. Not only is Johnstone telling a story, but he is creating new world with the way that the lines connect together, the way that they live and bounce off of one another. The way that he creates an almost rhythmic sound as you read not only complements the subject matter, but it really speaks to the way writing in a place so heavily influenced by nature can change the way we imagine words.

This poem has become one of my favorites not only because of the pictures of the great Southwest that it so easily paints, but also because there is something that has a living, pulsing heartbeat within it. And that same heartbeat speaks to Arizona and to Flagstaff. It speaks to the mountains and the deserts and the people who live in and around it.



Picture credit: Thin Air Magazine 

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