Cross Country Jessica Hess oil on canvas 13" x 24" 2010

Cross Country
Jessica Hess
oil on canvas
13" x 24"



Fossil Hunters

We rode our bikes out past the Chevron oil fields
to Shark Tooth Hill that first summer, me trailing behind,
your eyes on a more glamorous future.

You found a fossil (shark tooth or seal rib or just
dog too thirsty to live). I came back with Valley Fever,
inhaled spores pocking my lungs.

Here's what I saw: air too thick to breathe, dust-smudged
horizon, a family move to "farm country" leaking
oxygen, the world turning away.

To you, it was a place to start over. Bleached and vacant
skies, acres of crops ready to plow under, nobody's
bad opinion following you here.

For a moment I thought you and I might lean toward
each other. Brother and sister shored up, each throwing
enough shadow for temporary refuge.

We had learned the family credo well:
one for one, none for all. Separate orbits avoiding
anything but momentary intersection.

In our closed-door neighborhood, people emerged
only to switch on sprinklers at sunset, beaten back by
August sun. Still, you made friends.

Like an evangelist, you turned on the charm
for each new soul and unshackled yourself
from our shared history.

That day on Shark Tooth Hill, I traveled in your wake
for the last time as fifteen million years unfurled
beneath our feet.

You rode into the dust storm, farther and farther ahead,
until I couldn't track you, until I couldn't make out
the barest outline of you.




Candace Pearson grew up in the "other" California-the vast Central Valley-where this poem takes place. Her collection, Hour of Unfolding, won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry from Longwood University, and her poems have appeared in fine journals and anthologies nationwide.