Goldfields

by Tess Jolly

for Wol

When our children ask how we met, I’ll tell them
about the fork in the river, where a carpenter called James
found flakes of gold. I’ll tell them this all happened
long ago, before Great-grandmother was even born,
and how the story passed from mouth to mouth
to bind a seam around the earth. I’ll bring them
the shopkeeper striding through Californian streets,
holding a bottle of gilded dust before astonished eyes.
I’ll compare that bottle to a spinning wheel, an egg, a harp,
the way a child might open the door to a room
she didn’t know was there, reach beyond a wardrobe’s fur
and feel frost lapping her fingers. I’ll tell them
men travelled for months inspired by what they’d heard,
that there was violence, sickness, death – but hope
kept them moving. I’ll show them the valley where some
found what they were looking for gleaming on grassy outcrops,
others waded knee-deep sifting muddied water,
and many found nothing at all. I’ll explain what words
like prospect mean, and fever. I’ll say that in the end
it wasn’t skill or hard work or guessing the right name,
but luck that shone in those men’s grateful palms, as they stood
amidst the rocks and gravel, the glistening streams.