Bodie or Bust

The Poets of Bodie

Poets of Bodie: Alexis Vergalla

Alexis Vergalla writes and lives in Seattle, WA.  Her first chapbook, Letters Through Glass, was published in 2009 by Finishing Line Press and her second chapbook, Experiments in Light and Ether, will be appearing on Dancing Girl Press in the summer of 2010.  She currently helps out with Poetry Northwest and volunteers at the Richard Hugo House.


For Bodie I am taking the turn of the century, from 1880ish to 1915.  I really love science at that point, mostly centered on ether and the abandonment of that theory (which I know way too much about by now).  For this project, though, I’m veering more into the medical field, taking the persona of a doctor entering town right as it crests and begins its demise.

I’ve never been to Bodie, and I’ve never really been to a ghost town.  A few dilapidated coal towns in Pennsylvania, but never an out and out ghost town; the closest I’ve been is Laramie, WY.  As I don’t really know ghost towns, but I do know the East, I’m going to have the doctor equally transported as I found myself while living in California for two years.  I look forward to learning all about setting bones, removing bullets and mine accidents.

Poets of Bodie: Cody Todd

Cody Todd is the author of the chapbook, To Frankenstein, My Father (2007, Proem Press). His poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, the Konundrum Engine Literary Review, Lake Effect, Salt Hill and are forthcoming in the Columbia Review and the Denver Quarterly. He received an MFA from Western Michigan University and is currently a Virginia Middleton Fellow in the PhD program in English-Literature/Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. He is the Managing Editor and co-creator of the poetry journal, The Offending Adam (


For the project, I envisioned a Caucasian/Chicano mixed male named Santiago (Santee) Hopper. Fleeing notoriety in Fontana for stealing pieces of amusement park structures/city building statues and general ruin (refer to the Chapter Junkyard of Dreams about Fontana in Mike Davis’ City of Quartz), Santee has a Ryder van filled with this crap and is taking it to Bodie because he is convinced that his ego has regressed into a crucible that channels the century-and-a-half-old spirits of various Bodie miners and personae. It would also suffice to say that Santee is a total psychopath with an artistic and ontological vision he adheres to and would probably do more than risk his life for.

As for me, I have been to Bodie once when I was a child, so there is little to remember. I remember an allure to being in an actual “Ghost Town” but upon inhabiting so empty a place, I experienced a powerful dread and wanted to leave it as quickly as possible and never return. I am from Denver and have spent most of my life in Colorado and plan to do much of my critical work at USC on western literature post WW2.

Poets of Bodie: Adam Smith

For the Bodie Poetry Project I have been assigned the persona of the Dandy, which I take some offense to as a term. I think part of the assignment of this role is tied to my love of alcohol, fucking, and swearing. Learning cards should be fun. And I look forward to shooting stuff.

I don’t know much about Bodie and haven’t done much writing, beyond literary analysis, in years. I love learning new things and look forward to researching the specifics of the era, my persona, and the peoples of the town. I’ve been drinking whisky lately as part of my research, but can’t seem to get into it. I may end up sticking to getting drunk on whisky as a simple conceptual understanding and draw from past experience about the subtle distinctions between the different kinds of drunkeness.

My idea of camping involves a hotel near some sort of wilderness. This would include any hotel in Las Vegas since the entire city is in the middle of the desert. I don’t have much experience with Ghost towns or living without contemporary amenities. I think I’ve been to Calico once or twice, and I’ve seen all of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. I’m fairly fluid with the terms by which I approach things, with a tendency to give parity to everything I consider valuable.

Poets of Bodie: Eric Shonkwilers

Eric Shonkwiler is a Midwestern transplant currently living in Riverside, CA.  He writes fiction, novels mostly, but has been known to write a poem or two.  He is editor-in-chief of CRATE Magazine, UCR’s graduate literary journal.  His writing can be found at Splinter Generation, Verdad Magazine, and Connotation Press.

The persona I’ll be taking on is Leslie Phillips, a boy of seventeen who entered Bodie in 1889.  He left home at fourteen, spending three years working his way west from St. Louis.  He crossed the wrong pair of miners in a saloon in Carson City, and was given directions to the already-fading town of Bodie instead of the growing Goldfield, Nevada.  Fiercely ignorant and with a sourceless sense of entitlement, Leslie burns his way through most work opportunities in an area and then does the same of the saloons before moving on.

Poets of Bodie: Elijah Mendoza

Elijah Rene Mendoza, a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of California, Riverside, was born and raised in Waco, Texas. His work has appeared in Askew Poetry Journal, Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, and is forthcoming in the New Mexico Poetry Review. He is the former poetry editor of CRATE literary journal. Some of his favorite authors are Richard Ford, W.B. Yeats, Jared Diamond, and Barbara Fields. Currently he teaches in the English Department at Baylor University, reads for 5th Wednesday Journal, and edits The Houston Literary Review.


I was born and raised here in Waco, Texas. I’m not sure if I’d call it home exactly, but it’s nice to be in a familiar place again. I’m primarily a formal poet though I often write in free verse. I’m passionate about social history and inequality, the Dallas Cowboys, prize fighting, the craft of writing in all genres, and self improvement. I have a particular interest in violence in Hispanic culture and also write about place.

I think the Bodie project is interesting because I typically write in first person and enjoy persona poems. I also have an active and continuing interest in history. I genuinely enjoy research and study, so writing about Bodie should give me the opportunity to do both.

Poets of Bodie: Matt Mauch

My persona is the Bodie weeds and perhaps other non-weed flora (“weed” being a subjective and opportunistic distinction in the end). When you think about it, many folks interact either with weeds or with others among the weeds. Weeds, as well—if you didn’t know—are essentially immortal (see: Mt. St. Helens), and, because they do not have the same sense of time as homo sapiens, are, in the limited perspective of homo sapiens, clairvoyant.


MATT MAUCH grew up in small Midwestern towns between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, in the snow and wind-chill belt. He is the author of Prayer Book (forthcoming from Lowbrow Press) and The Book of Modern Prayer (a limited-edition chapbook forthcoming from Palimpsest Press). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in DIAGRAM, The Journal, Willow Springs, The Squaw Valley Review, The Los Angeles Review, Sonora Review, and elsewhere. The editor of Poetry City, USA, Volume 1 (forthcoming from Lowbrow Press), Mauch teaches writing and literature in the AFA program at Normandale Community College, and also coordinates the reading series there. He holds an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and lives in Minneapolis.

Poets of Bodie: Noel Mariano

Noel Pabillo Mariano is an activist, poet, teacher, Kundiman Fellow and Los Angeles native. He holds a MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside where he helped produce and edit the first national “Coming Out Monologues” and is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. His writing can be found in Redactions, Connotation Press, 20 Miles Down and elsewhere. He currently serves as the nonfiction editor of Circumlocution Literary an online journal dedicated to showcasing work from young authors. For more information about arts activism, feel free to visit


For the project, I will be playing with persona and the different aspects of identity (claimed, gender, ethnic, etc. etc.). I will be writing a persona with a persona. I will be writing/assuming the identity of Dr. Percival John, Bodie’s doctor/mortician, since in the era presented, they were often the same thing. And well, I said a persona with a persona. So Dr. John has a hidden persona of Desiree Malone. This fits as my chapbook novella in verse was through the lens of a persona of a young girl dealing with her newly assumed identity as the sole child of her family. That, and I just retired as a performer in the Drag Burlesque group “House of Loca,” there are so many times I can twist my ankle wearing heels before I call it quits.

As for Bodie, I found the materials given to be a little heartbreaking. There’s something comforting about the idea of home and abandoned homes have always been lonely to me. This is why I get a little sad when I see abandoned cars on the side of the freeway. Personas are haunting because it brings up the idea of abandoning one’s self and identity for the sake of another. Ghost towns are left behind for the desire of something more. So I feel that they go hand in hand.

Poets of Bodie: Ruth Nolan


_photo info: photo taken in National Cinder Cones Preserve, Mojave Desert, October, 2009 by Philip Helland


Mary Winnemuca Tate is in her late thirties, and is living alone in Bodie disgused as a man. She is 1/2 Paiute Indian, a distant cousin to the important Paiute Indian Sarah Winnemuca – later to be celebrated as a cultural leader in California and national history when interest and distinction in Native American culture is revived in the 20th century –  and 1/2 Anglo. Originally from a small tribe of northern Paiutes who made their home in the Mono Lake region, she was married at 16 to John Tate, a peaceful man who came alone to the Sierra west as a young adult, severing ties with his relatives in New England. Long living on the outskirts of society to avoid racism, Mary and John lived near Bridgeport on a ranch until their home was overrun by drunken, Indian-hating horse thieves and local miners. Mary was raped and tortured and the couple’s three children killed; the thieves took the family’s goods and burned the ranch down. John hanged himself two days later.

Realizing that her Paiute relatives have either moved to southern California many years ago to work on the southern Pacific Railroad, or been forced off their land into unknown lands in the Nevada desert by Anglo settlers and miners in the 20 years since she left home, Mary has come to Bodie in the year 1876, and is living disguised as a man. She has found work in the gold-bearing ore mines, and taken a room in a boarding house full of miners located on Green Street. It is her determination to try to find the men who destroyed her family, and to find subtle ways to murder them. And in the process, she is bent on earning her fortune in gold so she may spend her remaining days putting up bounty for law-breaking western men and help serve justice, especially the outlaws who have destroyed Indian tribes and villages, and shattered the lives of women and children. By 1890, having been well established in her mission, and drifting in and out of a fading Bodie, as she complete Mary is also a secret follower of Wovoka, the Paiute prophet who initiated the Ghost Dance for Indians nationwide in their last efforts to avoid genocide, circa late 1800′s.

Poets of Bodie: Charles Hood

For the project I am representing the literal or metaphoric voice of manifest destiny, which is good, since whenever I meet a Native American I have a compelling urge to set his or her house on fire and to shoot any bison penned nearby. My first book followed John Wesley Powell on his 1869 descent of the Colorado River and the author photo for that book was taken at an abandoned 19th century mining town between Bisbee and Tombstone.

As far as Bodie itself, I have been there a few times; it is not quite the center of UFO magic for me as it is for Nicelle but I do feel at home in the Great Basin, and in a forthcoming book on California places, I wrote the Mono Lake chapter. I also have been an Artist in Residence at a place on the other edge of the Great Basin, the World War Two site of Wendover, on the Utah / Nevada border. In 25 years of travel in the American deserts, I never met a ghost town I didn’t like.

Poets of Bodie: Scott Hernandez

Scott Hernandez was raised on a small farm in southern California. His Father is an old west history buff, and he visited Bodie as a child on one of the many family vacations. He fell in love with the town and its decayed state. He has visited and photographed many of old dusty places and what’s left of ghost towns of California. He looks forward to writing about Bodie and its Mexican and South American residents. Scott’s poems have appeared in Mosaic, Spectrum, The Red Wheel Barrow, Acentos, Cipactli, and the California Poetry collection. His new chapbook entitled “Placasos y Retablos” is out Fall 2010.

Poets of Bodie: JTH

JTH will be writing for the voice of the Bodie landscape. Like the desert he is a mystery.

Poets of Bodie: Liberty Heise

Liberty Heise’s work can be found in Crate, The Fourth River, Ecopoetics, Phoebe Journal, Grain Magazine, Poetry Motel and others.  Her poem “The dingo falters” was nominated for Best New Poets 2008. Liberty was the co-editor for The Squaw Valley Review (2008 cohort) and graduated with her MA in Creative Writing from Temple University in 2005 Liberty was the recipient of the 2004 SWEA scholarship for her translation in Swedish.  She teaches at The Girls’ School in Austin, Texas.

Poets of Bodie: Kate Gale

Dr. KATE GALE is Managing Editor of Red Hen Press, Editor of the Los Angeles Review and President of the American Composers Forum, LA.  She teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. She serves on the boards of A Room of Her Own Foundation, the School of Arts and Humanities of Claremont Graduate University and Poetry Society of America.  She is author of five books of poetry (her most recent, Mating Season, Tupelo Press), a novel Lake of Fire, and six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis.  Her current projects include a co-written non-fiction book entitled Tameka vs. Susie Q, a creative non-fiction book Wild Horses, two new poetry collections, a co-written libretto, Paradises Lost with Ursula K. LeGuin with composer Stephen Taylor and a libretto adapted from Kindred by Octavia Butler with composer Billy Childs, a libretto based on The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle, based on Dr. Kinsey’s life with composer Daniel Felsenfeld, and a libretto, After the Opera with composer Veronika Krauses. Articles, poems and fiction published in various literary journals and magazines, including: Gargoyle, Oberon, Cimarron Review, Rattle,The Brownstone Review, Georgia Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review,  Black Clock, Northeast Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Quarterly West, Poems & Plays and Eclipse. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.


For the project, I am I a crazed mother losing her sons as they go off to war and the town becomes depopulated, strange and blackened against the California skyline.  (In real life I am a crazed mother trying to get my children to move out of the house and regretting making the home such a fuzzy nest.) My writing of poetry and librettos has been somewhat confessional, sometimes persona, and sometimes just sheer narrative in the librettos.

As far as Bodie itself, I have not been there, although I used to visit mining towns in Arizona as a student, somehow in California I haven’t seen anything in twenty years because you have to work so hard to stay indoors, not Yosemite, the Norton Simon, Mono Lake, the Salton Sea, and not this Bodie place… but I will try to see it this summer on one of our road trips.  My favorite ghost town so far has been Tortilla Flats in Arizona  for all the wrong reasons maybe… people who loved me took me there, I don’t know if it is as cool or important as Bodie.

I am glad to be asked for this… I am not an expert on the American West but I am studying and living the human heart, and loss and soul consequences and trying to wonder about strands of connection.  Like Morrison I ask every day about the threads of quilt, and sometimes I think that in the American West, those threads were far riskier.

Poets of Bodie: Steven Frye

Steven Frye teaches writing and literature at California State University, Bakersfield.  He has published shorts stories, essays, articles, and reviews in various journals, including The Centennial Review, The Kentucky Review, The South Carolina Review, and The Southern Quarterly, among others.  He is particularly interested in the literature of the frontier, landscape, and the human impulse to violence.

Poets of Bodie: Nicelle Davis

Nicelle Davis lives in Southern California with her son J.J. Her poems are forthcoming in Broadsided, Front Range, FuseLit, Moulin Review, The New York Quarterly, Offending Adam, Picture Postcard Press, SLAB, Superficial Flesh, Transcurrent Literary Journal, and others. She’d like to acknowledge her poetry family at the University of California, Riverside and Antelope Valley Community College. She runs a free online poetry workshop at The Bees Knees.


Bodie is a home lost. This loss is preserved in the form of a park; Bodie is the Disneyland of loneliness. What a better place for poems to meet–to ride roller-coasters of  images? I wanted to face the dangers of loneliness head on–but I didn’t want to do it alone–and so I asked these amazing talents to come with me. They agreed to go and so the adventure begins.

I will be writing in the voice of Daniel Horner (first born of Bodie). His greatest desire is to be buried in Bodie, but the ground just won’t have him. He will see the rise and fall of his home. He will be force to walk away from the wreckage he loves more than himself.

Poets of Bodie: Alba Cruz-Hacker

Alba Cruz-Hacker is a Dominican-American poet, writer and translator, and the author of No Honey for Wild Beasts (2008).  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she was awarded the 2007 UCR Poet Laureate Prize and the 2007 Tomas Rivera Endowment Poetry Selection.  Her works have been published in the Caribbean, Canada and the US, including Poetry (Senior Editor’s Choice), The Caribbean Writer, Canadian Woman Studies, Gargoyle, Spillway Review, Soundings: A Journal of Exploratory Research and Analysis, Bear Flag Republic:  Prose Poems and Poetics from California and the Encyclopedia of Hispanic-American Literature, among others. She is a McNair Scholar, specializing in the polyrhythmic multi-vocality of Caribbean Literature, and a former Managing Editor of the Pacific Review. She teaches creative writing at UC Riverside and the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center and is also the Director of Development and Special Projects for the General Consulate of the Dominican Republic in California and the US Western Region. She lives in the mountains of San Bernardino with her husband and children.


I grew up moving around Latin America and later in various US states.  California, however, has been my home for the last twenty years, where I’ve lived in its Northern, Central and Southern regions.  I guess one could say that I straddle borders—and like it!  Liminal spaces hold a special appeal for me.  That’s how I’m thinking of this project about Bodie: an in-between space where what was and what will become will merge by giving imagined voices to ghosts.


For the project, I will be writing in the voice of Aurore Dubois.  She is French Creole; a transplant from Louisiana who escaped a difficult situation back home by marrying the first guy who proposed.  Her husband came to Bodie in search of fortune.  He bought an unproductive gold mine and died soon after, leaving Aurore destitute.  To survive, she turns to prostitution and works for Madame Etienne, one of the reported numerous “houses of ill repute” in Bodie.  Another interesting tidbit about Aurore: she’s a sort of witch (seer), but her gift—inherited from her maternal Mulatta grandmother—is quite capricious, coming and going as it pleases.

Poets of Bodie: Jessi Cramer

Jessi Sundell Cramer is a tattoo artist, playwright, screenwriter, poet and all around creative-type.  She has a Masters in screenwriting from UC Riverside and her plays have been performed from Washington DC to Santa Monica, California and points in between.  Critical work is forth-coming in Connotations Press.  Jessi grew up in Wyoming, fluttered about and now lives in Laramie for the time being.

Ghost towns are endlessly fascinating to me and the concept of West-ness has prodded my work for years.  My Bodie persona is a as-yet unnamed young female journalist at the turn of the century.   Raised the eldest of seven daughters on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, she refused to marry three suitors and when The Persistent Suitor became increasingly insistent, she ran away to Philadelphia to follow in the footsteps of her hero, reporter Nelly Bly.   My stubborn-sweet girl supports herself writing interest pieces for magazines and furnishing illustrations for magazines and books.  She came to Bodie to write about the gold rushes and discovered a far bigger freedom than she ever imagined beneath the desert sky.

Poets of Bodie: Ching-In Chen

Ching-In Chen has lived in Riverside, California for the last three years (and will be moving this fall to Milwaukee to begin a PhD in Creative Writing).  She hearts street food, the zuihitsu & other “hijacked forms” and gets lost easily.  She is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press).  The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she is a Kundiman, Macondo and Lambda Fellow.   A community organizer, she has worked in the Asian American communities of San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston.  She is a member of the Save Our Chinatown Committee, a grassroots organization working to preserve the archaelogical heritage of Riverside Chinatown and likes to writes poems using found text and objects.  You can find her at


I’m going to write about the Chinese population of Bodie, which fits one of my general obsessions (coolies).  Also, I think ghosts & buried cities are fascinating & I like to follow their trails.  The book I’m currently working on has a speculative shiny city and its twin as inspiration, the buried city of Riverside Chinatown. I’ve never been to Bodie, but I hope to visit soon in the upcoming months.

Thanks for having me & looking forward to your poems!

Poets of Bodie: Jackie Bang

I am Jackie Bang of Bang Excavation. I am looking for answers to Epic Fail. I am a ghost town journalist time-traveler mosaic jigsaw-undercity writer. I intend to write ten taut and intertwined one page prosaic that catch the dead-goldtown of Bodie, as a metaphor for all dead gold-ghosts, and the death of towns in general. My pieces will cover ten year snippets of history from gold rush to desertion. My intent is to the catch the ghosts in the periphery of their stories, dancing in the half light of dusk, between the timbers and mine ceilings, the forgotten rotten spools of thread under abandoned porches. I’m coming for you Bodie.

Poets of Bodie: Maureen Alsop

Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of Apparition Wren (Main Street Rag), The Diction of Moths (Ghost Road Press, pending) and several chapbooks.  Her most recent poems may be found or are forthcoming at: Kenyon Review, AGNI, Blackbird, Pank, and Born Magazine.


A few years ago on trip to New York City I became obsessed with a Dean & Deluca gold dusted chocolate Buddha. This ephemeral being, I did not taste.  And though I still hanker for the ingestion of ‘mineral light,’   I’m not brazen enough to incarnate gold’s insidious lure. Thus I hitch myself, like the feverish prospectors of 19th century, to the ultimate quest—the desire to touch that gilded reflection of heaven hidden by eleven layers of earth.   The role of the undertaker appeals to me, but not an undertaker embodied by active throng of the village tragedy, nor the miner with his pan and pick-axe, no, but he that dwells with untarnished essence.  If such a thing, beyond the immortal sun, exists in Bodie?


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