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"68 Miles to Barstow" — a poem by Heather Lang

Bobak Ha'Eri
Barstow, California

68 Miles to Barstow 


You say something

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about the world’s largest thermometer,

which just now reads 87 degrees. 

Near Baker, along Highway I-15, 


millions of desert flowers. We slow down: 

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traffic. You should know

Zzyzx Road is exit 239.

This is, after all,


all about the numbers.

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45 miles to Barstow

and another line that we shouldn’t 

cross. And one call box every mile. 


It is California: power lines 

like giant robots. Arms. Legs. Playing

 cat’s cradle, like when I was a kid,

 something you can’t remember.


It’s 3 pm and brush makes long 

shadows on the moon-like terrain. 

The desert, a place where people shouldn’t 

be. Even layers of mountains lose


their detail due to aerial perspective. 

This desert is not high enough

for Joshua trees, and there are palm 

trees where none should be. We come up


on Peggy Sue’s Diner. We’ve never 

been, but we’re four miles 

from Barstow, and I ask if that’s dust 

or fog in the distance. I don’t want 


it to be San Diego smog. I tell you 

it’s okay to lie to me. Four miles 

is fifteen minutes in traffic. But it was 

never really about the numbers. 


Heather Lang is a poet, editor, and literary critic. She serves as an adjunct professor at Nevada State College.