Last night, I checked into this hotel at 3 a.m. after checking out of the other hotel in Albuquerque where a spry cockroach jumped—flying, really—from underneath the pillow to the bedside table during my routine bed bug check. I’d talked my way out of my Hotwire booking standing in the bathroom while I also noticed a little smear of brown blood on the white tile floor.

The cockroach scurried behind the bedside table, after I grabbed my luggage. At 2:30 a.m., I strode to the glass door, past the drunk man a good ten years younger than me who looked me up and down with bleary eyes and said, “Hellllloooo” before stumbling into the dark hallway. Got into an Uber driven by a college student who was picking up riders the night before the first balloon rise—he wanted to bike along I-25 to the Balloon Fiesta the next morning and feel the cool, predawn wind in his hair & wake up eating a breakfast burrito underneath the enormous, newly risen orbs. Checked into the other hotel, having miraculously found a room during the city’s busiest weekend of the year, almost 800,000 spectators, and cringed as my credit card swiped the machine at the check-in counter. Ghostly hands scooping the funds out of my account. Took a free red delicious apple waxed and polished in a basket at the reception desk. Slept until a stripe of sunlight pried through the blinds. Tomorrow morning, I’d wake in the dark and drive to the Trinity Atomic Test Site.

And now, as I unzip my suitcase, I realize my Tom’s hiking boots wrapped in the plastic bag I saved from my favorite Thai restaurant in Brooklyn—I can almost smell my favorite green curry, eggplant, and soft chicken soaked in coconut milk—take up half of my luggage.

What do you do with your shoes after you step onto the dirt of a nuclear test site?

Thick rubber soles with a tread that will press a footprint in the dust, like an astronaut, behind you.

Fluffy faux fur at the ankles, the heavy heels brought me to the petroglyphs & up and between the red stoned passageways of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks & to work in a skirt and leggings when I lived in New Mexico.

Will I bunch up the laces with the wax tips—a detail I always liked about shoelaces, even from my first bunny ears—and stack the boots, Tetris-like, back into the same white bag (reuse, recycle)? Wedge both boots under my pilling pajama pants and the Shine On T-shirt I bought on clearance for $3 when NYC was on lockdown? Then check the suitcase at the Albuquerque Sunport, carrying minorly radioactive particles into the open belly of the plane and back, like magic beans from a fairy tale, like breath from a god, the godhead blast, the first of its poison, back into my life?

Into yours?

What if I told you that after I pulled into the hotel parking lot, after walking in the radioactive dirt, I opened the driver’s side door, swung my legs out of the car, propped up my right foot & looked at my heel & found, embedded in the boot tread, a blackish green chunk of Trinitite? That I walked off the site with this shard of melted glass from the atomic bomb blast in my boot?

What if I told you the evidence that we’ve engineered the end of the earth pressed down on the floor of the rental car while my toe bed pushed the touchy accelerator down, down, faster, faster, flying me away from the circle in the desert that smells sweet with meadow grass and attracts white butterflies in the purple milkweed?


Tyler Mills is the author of City Scattered (Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo Press 2022), Hawk Parable (Akron Poetry Prize, University of Akron Press 2019), Tongue Lyre (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, Southern Illinois University Press 2013), and co-author with Kendra DeColo of Low Budget Movie (Diode Editions Chapbook Prize, Diode Editions 2021). “Boot” is from her nonfiction manuscript, The Bomb Cloud, which recently received a Literature Grant from the Café Royal Foundation NYC. A poet and essayist, her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The New Republic, The Believer, and Poetry, and her essays in AGNI, Brevity, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, and The Rumpus. She lived and taught in New Mexico for four years, most recently serving as the Burke Scholar for the Doel Reed Center for the Arts in Taos, NM, and now teaches for Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute and lives in Brooklyn.

Photo by Amy Selwyn