The long-dead doze beneath me, their stones
set close against the overgrown earth, sheathed
in centuries of lichen and the moss of lost hope.
Next to the carved names, on each marker
appear the words, Native of, and their country
as if these teachers, doctors and speculators,
who set off in uncertain caravans of wagons
or traversed the fresh-laid tracks of the West
to reach this place of lush, verdant promise,
also knew that death never lets us forget who
we are, where we come from, no matter how far
from home we find ourselves. In the end, perhaps
they had to admit that nothing in our California
could measure up to the gridded simplicity
of cities in the East, the familiar black forests
of Bavaria, or neighbors who spoke their language.
When they whisper to me now in the muffled
wind, I listen to a litany of fevers, failed claims,
all the hard knocks that leave us useless nuggets
of regret for following all of our wildest prospects.