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Pioneer Cemetery—Two Graves

One grave is neat as a pin, a widow’s cottage. Not so much as a leaf has fallen on the clean-swept dirt: none would dare. The stone has been scrubbed, incessantly. And down below in cozy oblivion, you can almost hear the knitting needles click.

The grave next door has been abandoned, its fence tottering and the gate unhinged. No stone there, but a board you’d nail over the windows of an empty house. And weeds. A restless spirit has packed up his bones and moved on. He must have heard the rumor that death is always better somewhere down the road.

Elk Hills

Wherever you look, nothing green intrudes. These hills would have to add on two hundred feet to produce the scrubbiest oaks; and they’re a brooding gray-green more suitable to rocks in a dry riverbed. Up here nothing survives but snarls of rusted brush and not much of it. This soil has the texture of worn sandpaper after eons of taking the edge off every wind that passed by. You can stand still for hours and see nothing move, hear nothing—except, of course, the oil wells. Those robotic priests who worship for us kneel and rise and kneel in endless, unhurried obeisance, hundreds of them, praying for the indispensable black blood of a god no one loves.