Elegy for a Ghost Town
Houses torn apart for tin. Claims abandoned.
No prayers to heaven, they wanted what lies
beneath my feet: graves fenced like cribs.
Chastity, Patience, Faith. Daughters named
for virtues, sons after fathers.
The one-room schoolhouse yields to my push,
alphabets cross the blackboard trunk-to-tail,
children once recited: Cotton, Cattle, Copper.
Rough labor shaped their hands, chalk to slate.
It’s easier to clean your skin than your shirt.
Dampness and dust, weather in caverns
never changes. A shaft resembles a body:
once you blast out the silver there’s no reason
to return. No shiny galena, no glittery traces.
I gather up fragments of rock and bone.
If it sticks to my tongue, it’s bone.
Mercury still trails in the river’s blood,
fevered remains of nineteenth-century
illness. There were no children here.
Towns named for mines, the mines named
for women. Smelter stacks tumbled
to foundation. Contention City, Total Wreck:
the names disappear from accurate maps.
Ghosts only seen by cartographers –
Ruby, Annabel, Miranda.
Towns such a part of the landscape,
it’s no surprise they no longer exist.
Keith Ekiss is a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow. He is the author of Pima Road Notebook (NewIssues Poetry & Prose, 2010) and translator of The Fire’s Journey by the Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio, forthcoming in four volumes from Tavern Books. Territory of Dawn: The Selected Poems of Eunice Odio will appear in 2016 from The Bitter Oleander Press.