Waiting for Lawrence of Arabia on the Big Screen

The English have a great love of desolate places.
                                                                Prince Fisal

Our provisioned expedition settles in, sings girlish praises: O’Toole and Sharif

lounging windblown in oases. Expanse of matte-white screen and four delicious

hours yet to travel.


On set, after every charge of sun-rough rebels over dunes, weedy interns

in wide-legged Bermuda shorts and goggles guarding against shrapnel sand

brush the desert clean of prints.


The world swept new again, and every take the first. There’s nothing

epic in being second, in following hard-packed camel trails to smooth-walled wells.

No romance in an un-lost compass.

There is nothing in the desert, and no man needs nothing. Yet we grapple

for unmapped jungle, unplumbed depths, unwatched classics—to be first, flinty-eyed

explorer, to endure what no one has.


And if it’s love, it’s Stockholm syndrome—sun’s anvil, lip split with rime of thirst

clammy chill of a gaucho night, campfire coffee grounds settled by an egg poached

mottled brown and gritty.


Or if it’s love, it’s an escape into the graspable, an honest kind of hurt.

The clean sincerity of the conversation between body and land:

a throat too dry to spit.


Or if it’s love, it’s a sweet mirage the desert tells us, a Hollywood lie,

Baby, you’re the first. This bleakness yours to interrupt, this stark

horizon yours to cross.


Each of us a vanguard, blue eyes blazing as we stalk the desert night.

Shuffling after boom mic and camera dolly and someone to scuff away

our marks, restore what’s loved.


No man needs nothing, and wind-whipped sand can kill—but lights dim,

we hush each other for the trek toward intermission. Projected flicker. Desert dark.

Give us something blank to write on.

Olivia Wolfgang-Smith's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cobalt Review, CutBankThe Common, Fourth Genre, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her work has been longlisted for Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers and DIAGRAM's Innovative Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She earned an MFA in Fiction from Florida State University, and originally hails from Rhode Island. Exchange enthusiasm about history, Hollywood, and outer space on twitter (@OWolfgangSmith) or at wolfgangsmith.squarespace.com.


Images by Elfie Hintington courtesy of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

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