King of Carrots


As my father and his friends drilled

with their wildcat rig at the first line

of arid Sierra Nevada foothills my


young brothers and I saw a boy our

age by a great overturned silver tank

that winked in the sun near a peeling


house with wrinkled green shingles,

asphalt at their curled edges, a couple

rooms with lean-to screen porch. We


hiked into waist-high golden oats and

sharp foxtails until we found a door

cut in the dented metal. In the cooler


dark the child sat on the dirt strewn

with hundreds of orange carrots still

with feathery leaves. “Why do you


pull them up?” I asked. “You should

save them to eat.” I don’t remember

what he answered. Maybe they were


his toys or treasure, his only friends,

each yanked like a spirit from its bed

and carried to his round silent house.


He was prince of carrots, general of

an army, their god, powerful and rich

enough to let them waste. We didn’t


eat any but sat without names inside

a realm of dying vegetables, nothing

to say. We said goodbye and returned


down the hill and in my father’s truck

waited in the heat, watching the derrick,

its casing sinking into the ground, our


father’s and the others’ arms stained with

yellow drilling mud. No oil gushed and

we drove home from the solitary king


in the castle and his fallen subjects like

strange fingers his mother let him gather

and rule in doomed rings all around him.



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