MATERIALS LIST: Pizza box. 20oz plastic bottle. Chicken wire. Newspaper. Flour. Water. Paint. TOOLS: Box Cutter. Serrated knife. Wire Cutters. Gloves. Staple Gun. Super glue. Mixing bowl. Paint brushes. Measuring Cup.
It’s difficult for you to pinpoint when it started. This barking up the wrong tree. Free, yet overwhelmed with whatever marker you’ve used at that time to define a life, and a place, and a job, and a class, and a relationship, or the time that passed since its end, and yet still having to answer for it. When it was that family functions became a gauntlet of faces all looking for your purpose, while their children (the nibblings) ran in circles and danced and screamed for the simple sake of screaming. So the questions start and your brother-in-law offers up that his son will keep his name moving on down the line, and all you can think is “mine will be mine will be mine will be mine.” Their little faces beaming. Must have been around the time you were asked not only to name your favorite color (orange), but to also list second and third favorites. And you’ve been there. The little ones are all in school and creating, and drawing lines to match the picture with the word, and trying to add this thing to that thing to find the sum— the answer, the first bit of sadness, and failure. There’s a science fair, or a project, or a recital, or a field trip, and they all start in about how great it is to make the thing, and how they’ll continue to do so. You’re left sitting with a beer in your hand, and again they ask you if you’ve ever made one. You say you haven’t, or maybe you have but you gave it up, or maybe you started but tossed it, maybe you saw a mistake, and the jaws drop down and they question how you could’ve gone this long without really even trying. “I don’t think so,” they say. You can use Grandma’s lobster claw to lift their slack mouthed expressions back into place.
STEP ONE: BASE
Materials: 18×18 Piece of Particle Board or Pizza Box
Tools: Box Cutter
Dig out a base. It doesn’t have to be a pizza box or a piece of particle board, it just needs to be able to hold up the weight of the volcano. A flat surface. Something sturdy. I suggest a pizza box because if you’re like me there’s probably always one sitting by the recycling can, waiting to be taken out come Thursday. But of course, Thursday comes and goes, and you find another one sitting by the can. Maybe you have a stack of them that have accumulated over the course of your life. A perfect monolith of greasy cardboard. Maybe you’re slowly chipping away at the stack. Taking them out at night under the cover of darkness. Maybe the guy that delivers to your home calls you Chief. Whatever the case may be, today is the day you can put one to use.
Now, find yourself something to cut with. A box cutter works best, but perhaps your earlier career was that of a chef and you have an angelic set of Damascus steel hanging from a magnet in the kitchen, or perhaps you carry a spring loaded blade in your pocket. Whatever the case, you just need something that cuts. Unfold the box and lay it flat on the floor. The carpet works well and will typically hide any small mistakes. You don’t want to damage any tile or vinyl flooring. You don’t want to slip and cause self-injury. You’re only just starting. Don’t overthink it.
Run the blade along the perforated edge of the lid. One straight line. The idea here is to keep the sides of the box intact to prevent spillage or a runover of liquid once our volcano is complete. You don’t want anything leaking. You don’t want any mistakes. Work from your knees, with your body away from the line you’re cutting. Move slowly and slide the knife along the edge. Use common sense. Watch your wrists.
There you have it! Your base! Place the box top next to your recycling can.
This is a fecund family, dammit. And so they keep asking questions, and you get stuck trying to pull yourself from a conversational rut, or better yet, drink through it. Mama had some babies and their heads were haloed. Started when she was in high school, and your sister had one when she was in high school, and then two more. Your brother had one right after he dropped out of high school, and your youngest sister went to college— and dropped out and had some babies. Names passed out everywhere. Your niece wasted no time having hers, either. And now you have not only nibblings, but great nibblings and you’re a great uncle, but really only as a related term of endearment, and the eyes wonder and voices sound off, and finally someone says, “Well, after you and your ex broke up I gave up on the idea of you ever having kids.” You couldn’t have one anyway, but merely contribute. So sink and sit on that for a minute. You’re tempted to fire back but doing so will leave you looking like you’re better and standing on a pedestal. Comfortable in your life without what you consider meddlesome, and submitting to it anyway, but you’re incapable of true creation. “Yeah, well, why do you think she left?”
STEP TWO: BASIN
Tools: Serrated Blade, Super Glue
Your volcano needs a shape, and it all begins with a bottle. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I have a bottle!” You want to jump up and run to the kitchen, grab those stones from the freezer, a bucket from the cupboard, and start emptying out that bottle of whiskey glass by glass. Sorry to say, it’s not that kind of bottle we’ll be using. All we’ll need here is a 20-ounce soda bottle, and I’m guessing you have that in the same place you found your box top. You may need to dig a little bit, or order yourself another pizza, or even ask a neighbor for one (who talks to their neighbors anymore?), but whatever the case may be, I’m sure you can come up with something.
Of course, some people choose not to use a bottle at all, and will instead use a toilet paper roll. This will work fine from an aesthetic standpoint; however, it will leave your volcano barren. The point of the bottle is to give your volcano a hole for the crater, to serve as the throat of the conduit and a basin to contain the liquids that will come bursting forth from the vent. The bottle provides the proper kind of womb for our chemicals to gestate. Remove the label, but keep the cap on for the time being. The pressure pushing from inside will aid with the insertion of the knife. You may want to remove the top part of the bottle by sawing into it at the neck. This will give the volcano a bigger vent, which will allow the liquid to cascade down the mountainside as opposed to simply erupting into a mess. If that’s what you are going for, then by all means, leave the narrow top. Whatever the case may be, this is your volcano.
**Alternatively, if you own a pair of garden shears, you can simply snip the bottle at the base of the neck.**
Super glue the bottle upright in the center of your base. Give it a few minutes to dry. Once dry, grab the bottle with your whole hand and squeeze it. Focus on the air going in and out. Think about the liquid and how it will flow. These are the lungs. This is the heart.
You’re up to your knees at the kids’ table because those who don’t have are forced to eat small, and you get a call from the mouths of adults sitting higher up by default. You’re knee down like you’re living in some Saturday morning cartoon, asking if you need someone to cut your meat for you. Knee slapping laughter— cheek breezy from the applause. Obviously you don’t because there isn’t any meat on your plate. The conversations this low are ground down like the pepper on your salad. Tiny bits of dialogue. Bed of a race car, animals overstuffed and named like their own little babies, screaming-squealing lunatic little kids seem to understand why it’s more fun to paint than it is to raise the dead. “So what do you think you’re gonna do?” Your brother-in-law seems to know better. Apparently, at some point you’re going to give in and produce something that matters. You hold it in. All of this is as ephemeral as the closing night of a show, with the hard boiled logic that there comes a time in your life where you just have to do it, that nobody is really ready, though if you had to choose a lifetime of commitments you’d get an army of felines. The nor’easter dinner windbag blows fallen scattered salt across the table, so you throw it over your shoulder in some ritual for protection— a way to luck yourself.
STEP THREE: BONES
Materials: Chicken Wire
Tools: Wire Cutters, Work Gloves, Staple Gun
Next, we need to create a frame. This is where the structure of the volcano really starts to take shape. You’re going to need about 2.5 feet of chicken wire. To get started, you want to wind that chicken wire around the bottle. The best way to start on it is to first flare out the wire on one side so that it will lay flat on the board. We want to create a cone shape that will serve as the mountain. This is where it really happens. This is where you actually see your creation coming together. It’s on you, and you alone. This is the point of no return. Think about why you want to do this. Think about what you’re creating.
Press the flared wire flat against the base and begin by stapling the farthest wires to the box. Now, move the skirt of the chicken wire around the bottle. Move slow. Make sure the tip of your cone is even with the mouth of the bottle. You may want to use gloves to bind your hands. To protect yourself from your creation. The wire will want to fight you, its sharp braided edges will puncture your flesh. Your knuckles will bleed, and your hands will scar. The fat part of your hand will suffer penetration to the bone. Your eyes will water. You mustn’t give up, soldier on dear reader, this is your volcano.
You fight alone in your home, the center of the living room, and scream out as a wire finds its way deep inside the soft flesh on the underside of your thumbnail. Push on. It’s coming together. Pull the chicken wire around the bottle, hold it in place against the box, and pop your staples flush against the board. You’re almost there. POP. As the chicken wire begins to overlap you can use twist ties to secure them together. POP. Manipulate the wire as you need. POP. Bring it all together. POP.
You now have your base… this is your volcano.
** Don’t dispose of extra chicken wire. This can be used to fashion yourself a crown.**
Simply cut the remaining pieces into strips of 3-4 feet. Press them into long steel cords. This may hurt a bit, but if you squeeze them hard enough it will work. Take all the cords and braid them into a rope. Pull down over the head until the wires press into the scalp. If eyes begin to bleed, you’ve gone too far.
This is when you see your family’s bodies all gathered round the fire, drying out their shoes wet from baptism, wishing you’d put your faith in something other than yourself. “We go on Sundays now, and it’s sweet, and I don’t want to talk about it because you’ll just give us your opinion.” You think you want to dry out too, but you have a loving relationship with communion until 2 a.m. Body producing mucus, and memories that last until morning, your throat burning from the fires you set the night before. A thorny reminder that you have no intention to be a part of this and bathe in whatever you see fit. Nailing someone to the wall is basically the same as a holy crucifixion. On a mission of self-service and self-medication and self-harm and selflessness.
STEP FOUR: FLESH
Materials: Flour, Water, Newspaper
Tools: Measuring Cup, Bowl, Spoon
I’ll bet I’m right to assume we’ve reached the part of the journey you’ve been most anxious to get to; it’s time to flesh out your volcano. First, we’re going to want to dive back down inside the recycling can for newspaper. Of course, you can always steal from a neighbor’s porch, or if you’re really hard up, buy one. We’re going to begin by tearing the newspaper into strips. You’re going to want to make your strips about 2 inches wide, and about six inches long. Tear the whole paper apart. Sports section? Rip it. Arts & Culture? Shred it. Opinion? Just pull it apart. When you’ve finished you should have a nice nest of bookmark-sized pieces. You can also tear the strips into tiny bits to aid the bleeding on your hands and forehead. Just pick off the size you want, give it a little lick, and apply to wounds.
Next, we’re going to make our papier-mache. You’re going to need one cup of flour and two cups of water. Combine the ingredients in a bowl and whisk.
Whisk until the paste is smooth. Whisk until it’s creamy. Whisk until your knuckles ache. Whisk until you’re dreaming. Whisk until your forearm throbs. Whisk your fingers ‘til they break. Whisk until some patterns form. Whisk it to create. Whisk until you can move on. Whisk until the bubbles stop. Whisk until you’re sweating beads. Whisk until your heart stops. Whisk until you exhaust. Whisk away your traps. Whisk until your knees give out. Whisk ‘til you collapse.
Now breathe, and run your fingers through the paste. Let it run down your fingers and over your wrist. Grab a strip of newspaper and dip it in the bowl and let the concoction saturate the pulp. Remove it from the paste and run the strip through two fingers so the excess falls back into the bowl. Starting at the vent, lay the strip onto the armature. Don’t press it too hard— allow it to do its own thing. Accept the creases. Accept the flaws. Accept that it’s going to do its own thing. Guide it. Repeat this process until the skeleton is dressed.
It’s time to wait. The hardest part. Sit with your creation in the center of your space. Watch it. Blow on it. Talk to it. Continue until you lose track of time and your body splits your clothing. Strip the material away and watch your volcano dry. Stand up and walk away.
Return several days later and hate everything you’ve done.
Really, what right does anyone have to bring anything new into this place? To pass along guilt and a dream in hopes they can catch the fire you couldn’t. To decide there comes a time where this is just what you do, and this is what you make. You see a lot of love in these rooms, but it’s hard sometimes to separate the creation from the creator. In the way they move, in the way they ask the smallest of favors. In the way the little bodies are just like the older ones, and you fear the day you should remake the one that made you, so you bury your hands in clay and hope it lasts as long as you do, and give up on what might come next. At a distance you see what you can create but decide you’d rather put your energy elsewhere. Molding with the type of care you hope your siblings use. You don’t have to reprimand a poem, and you don’t have to hurt a word, you never have to beat the life out of a story, and you can’t leave scars on a song.
STEP FIVE: DRESS
Tools: Paint Brush
Begrudgingly stroke the side of the mountain. It is borne. Your volcano can only become as great as you want it to. Pick at the flaws. Call it character. Call it quirky. Everything starts now. The next moves are the moves that will stay with your creation for its life span. Choose your paints, and slowly begin to work the paint in from the vent down. White snow. Black rocks. Earth; brown and green. Fade the snow into the valley landscape. Trees. Scars in the rock. Stretch the color as far as it will go. Pull oranges and pinks from the tip down into the lush life below. It’s explosive. It’s volatile. Its color is fire and warm, and cooling to dark blues and silvers.
You realize there’s a cost to everything. Alone in your space where pages curl on the edges and frames ride the walls there’s a heartbeat fighting against its own future. You make whatever you choose, roses wilting in a vase, face lit up in the reflection of street lamps a block over. The quiet is masterful and the bottoms of the couch have been shredded by claws, and you think again to yourself how the buck stops with you, and how freeing it is in a place arrested by the weather. Where you can call on the love of others and put forth what you need when you need it. Feeding off of a peripheral lineage when it suits you best. Happy to have something you can simply abandon when you call it quits. When you call it finished. When you’ve had enough, and that you hope will outlast you.
STEP SIX: RELEASE
Materials: Food Coloring, Vinegar, Baking Soda
Pour your color into the vent. Next add a heaping scoop of baking soda… add half a cup of vinegar.
Step back and watch the liquid spray, and mist, and cascade down the side of the mountain. Watch it as it ruins the colors of the valley and washes away the flaws in the folds. Broken back and aching muscles have created something that cannot be controlled. Pick it up and slide the flat part up your body and let it rest on your stomach with the volcano protruding like a horn. Paint the walls with bitter lava. Now, show it to the world. Exit to your balcony and hold your creation over your head for all to see and scream your panic at the stars.
Klae Bainter is a Seattle based playwright, essayist & poet currently pursuing his MFA in playwriting at Ohio University. He has had essays and poetry published with Barnhouse Journal, Piff Magazine, Signal Mountain Review, and others. He has developed work with Cleveland Drafts Literary Festival (2018), and even did a little performing with Manhattan Project (Cleveland, Ohio). His play, “Bullshit,” was part of the 2019 NEOMFA Playwrights Festival at Convergence Continuum (Cleveland, Ohio). He received his BA in English Literature, with a Creative Writing focus at University of Washington. Currently, he lives in Athens, Ohio, with an obnoxious orange cat.
Volcano Fig. 1
Daoud Naouri, originally from Tangier, lives in Northern California. His work revolves around the frailty of humans and the beauty of nature.