Hill Country Fossils

A poem

Wahrmund-Ahrens Road at Willow Creek, Texas. [Photo by Matthew High]

Maybe these limestone hills
contain the bones
we were built on,
but we can do anything now,
can create our own bones
through deliberate science —
the rebar and scaffolding
poking through a skin of caliche,
beer cans left bleached in the cedar,
sucked empty of marrow;
old tires furtively tumbled into the creekbed.

Being ours, they are better.

Here in these lovely houses newly built on the hills
are windows we’ve learned how to lock,
putting our trust
in the mechanism of their delicate springwork.
Here is the shotgun purchased at K-Mart
stood up in one corner; the cell phone
to be carried at all times
as insurance; the things
that would keep us safe
from a world
we no longer know how to be part of.

Out there in the hills
lie the bones we would prefer not to remember.
Their disorder says only
that we are not
what we would like to think we are.
They insist
there will always be something left that is stronger:
the gouged and knobbed fossil
that is record and remembrance; the skeleton of some animal
found in the October brush, scattered and dragged.

The more that we build, the easier it is to forget:
these limestone hills will always be
the bottom of a sea that is no longer, and sunk
somewhere within it
are cabins chinked with stone; cold,
with rattlesnakes waiting
to wake beneath their raised wooden floors.

We are not the first purveyors of violence;
there will always be
someone waiting in a doorway
for someone else
who might not ever return.

Here in these hills, behind the subdivision rising,
is a graveyard notched high above the elbow of the creekbed,
and there in the family plots,
shells from the ocean that used to exist
have been left, as testament to grief,
in reluctant recognition
of that slow pilgrimage
toward the embrace of these bones
we were each of us built from.

Beneath these jerry-built houses
lie tendon and rock and the spine
of these ridges.
This well-gnawed hank of land is our joy,
and all that is left us.

Editors' Note

“Hill Country Fossils” was originally published in The Southwest Review, Summer 2010. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.For more work from the Texas Hill Country, read “I Watch Slacker to Read Austin in the Original,” by Enrique Ramirez, published earlier this week on Places.

Katherine L. Hester, “Hill Country Fossils,” Places Journal, October 2011. Accessed 03 Oct 2023. <>

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