Creative nonfiction
by Sabrina Dalla Valle

6 am

A gun shot, a scream of frustration, in that order—just before dawn. Tiny birds lift the sun by the tips of its rays from a place deep under the canyon. Sounds of their work pour into a furtive sky. Then, silence, as blue seeps through the window.

Image for Design


Transparency lets the dark in as well as the light.

7 am

The crows come later—intermittently. They seem not to care about first light as they do territory. I asked my friend Gail, “How is a raven different from a crow?” “By one wing-tip feather,” she replied. That—and their abundant calling patterns. Ravens know how to imitate songs of their life-mates to call them back if somehow they disappear.

8 am

Daphne said in an interview, “I also write to make things that I need but can’t find.” Words sculpt a place for us to live on the page when the world becomes strange.

I swallow an excretion made from the throat of a honeybee—a tiny spoon of royal jelly. It does not come from a flower, but from a gland. It is not sweet, but sour.

9 am

David Foster Wallace took his own life in this daunting desert valley. A record of his thoughts were left behind in the marginalia of three hundred or so books—pining what he needed from the world—a page-by-page scribbled dialogue with folks who somehow thought they had a valid explanation.

10 am

If the body were a text, what would be the margin? Perhaps it is the space of an afterthought.

Did David Foster Wallace have an afterthought?

11 am

I sat with my father and a knife—it could have been sharper. I was poised on the arm of his chair. He gave me one of his treasures—a collection of modern French poetry books, limited edition, handset type, ink unevenly spread as if light splattered around the edges softening the form of random letters.

The books were clumsy, still bound by the publisher’s folds. “This is not a bank,” he said. “They are for you to hear the voice inside.” And together, we slit each page.


I will make my book with wide margins. Some medieval manuscripts liberally reveal the scribe’s commentary and errata on the marginalia.

The Latin root of erratum, ers, means “to stray.”

1 pm

A student writes a summary of The Witch Must Die, but forgets to explain why.

2 pm

There is a word in my hand. It is limp. I stoke it between my fingers. There is silence. I shake it. . . “Wake up! Say something! Please!” Where do dead words go? Do they have a heaven or a hell?

It is difficult to stand at the silent front of your students—dismayed when they must leave Hollywood behind.

3 pm

I write to Jeffrey, a childhood friend, about a conversation we had in my dream a while back. He wanted me to create his portrait when he was six years old: “The one where I was a butterfly,” he said. “With indigo, purple, and a touch of orange?” I responded. “Yes,” he answered. And I asked, “Do you want me to paint it?” “No,” he said, “I want you to come tomorrow and tell me the story.”

He writes back:

“I was wearing my old Mexican sweatshirt type thingy today that has a butterfly on the back in those exact colors! OK, now that's just odd!!:)”

4 pm

I am attracted to the hypnotic voice of the sage buzzing like an electric wire. Bees are sparkling drops of honey swarming on bush. Eager, they thrust their thorned noses into the throats of pale-blue flowers.

A hive of bees will fly 80,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits around the earth, to collect 1 kg of honey.

5 pm

A voice from the ripped poetry books escapes:

il y faut de l’âme à batter le fer
et l’âme est dans le marteau,
dans le bras,
je déjeune de travail.


it takes soul to beat at iron,
and soul is in the hammer,
in the arm,
I feed on this work.

6 pm

Renaissance printers sculpted a world with letters designed in human proportion: alphabets shaped by perspective, the Golden Section—even classical mythology.

7 pm

Drones have no father; they perform no work, but for the few who will fertilize eggs to render them female. If you draw a family tree beginning with a drone, after several generations, the Fibonacci numerical pattern emerges. The breeding order to generate a drone reflects a perfect, natural harmony.

8 pm

Maeterlinck says the queen bee is the unique organ of love within the hive. Nourished by royal jelly, she alone is able to produce eggs.

It has been written, in the far distant future the human being will reproduce asexually through the throat. We will release life, like language, into the air.

9 pm 

My neighborhood kids are in a fluster. It is dark, and the sound of a troubled bird fills the street. Deep-throated, but insecure. Young, but large.

Their voices tangle in the night.

10 pm 

Synchronicities are patterns that repeat in time. They bring people together at the boundary of awareness. After several experiences, the notion of coincidence simply dissolves.

11 pm 

Whether painful or pleasurable is irrelevant. The question is how to perceive.

You can hear the swoosh swoosh of a raven in flight, but you cannot hear a crow.

Copyright © 2012 by Sabrina Dalla Valle
Story image © Asif Akbar
"Design" was originally published in the chapbook 7 Days and Nights in the Desert, published by Mindmade Books.


Sabrina Dalla Valle

Sabrina writes:
“Design” is a hybrid essay from my chapbook 7 Days and Nights in the Desert, a memoir about living in the Los Angeles desert. Each essay is a 24-hour meditation on a day, integrating dream life, memories, present environment, and literary theory. The result is an ordering of imaginal structures created through textual patterns. Meaning emerges with urgency within the boundaries of time and then immediately disperses. With repetition the boundary becomes flexible and a certain grammar of logic emerges—not just in the course of a day, but over the flow of a year. Eventually, as my clever friend says, “You create a chiasmus between what you choose and what chooses you.”

Sabrina Dalla Valle, MFA, is a published poet and academic writer. She is most interested in the poetic imagination as an aspect of phenomenological perception and topics in memory as related to integral personal identity. Her academic research is in modernist poetic theory as it relates to hermetic philosophy. She is an adjunct faculty member of Woodbury University in Los Angeles, CA, where she teaches writing and communication theory. Her signature online course, "Writing from the Core," is the result of her work since 1992 creating writing programs for adults, adolescents, and women survivors of domestic abuse. She may be reached via email:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

William McCormick September 18, 2015 at 6:10 pm

This is a reading that I completed while in an discussion mode. The text had a familiar voice of energy and clarity. A enjoyed the imagery in the usage of words. Some of the scenario felt like common ground and seemed to have a “deja vu’ type of effect. It’s like I knew what the esoteric meaning to some of the illustrations were.


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