1. This is the tank battery, where the oil ends up. And we always start where the oil ends up.
d1. You can gauge it, measure it, pump it, and haul it.
d2. The tank looks like a battery, I told him, and he said he thought so too and maybe that is where it got its name.
2. It is a single drum tank battery,
2. so maybe it also looks like a drum, he said,
10. and the words skirted into the metal of the tank and around it like a skiffing snow.
12. We were surrounded by metal made gray with cold.
14. And that is the pumpjack, he told me, pointing into a field, and I guessed that name referred to the machine,
15. as it pumped a stroke up and down the wellhead. He said I'd probably be right, and that lots of stuff was like that in the oilfield.
15'. The gun barrel isn't the barrel of a gun, but a thin, tall tank that helps to settle contaminants from oil.
16. It looks like the barrel of a gun.
17. That is the pit over there.
18. It was just grass and I didn't see a pit, but a gentle depression rolled the prairie, suggesting there might have been one there before, full of rotary mud,
19. soft below the surface, shot there from a great discharge fountain.
20. This is the dog house, this is the pipe rack, so on and so forth, and we walked through the field naming things that sounded like the things they were.
21. And the snow was snow and it started harder down. Why suddenly did every signifier sound and look like its signified?
22. Only for that few minutes we spent there, a prairie dog was a prairie dog, and it couldn't be anything more, but when you stepped in the prairie dog hole you wished they were not.
23. And wasn't it strange that no word, for that short time, meant something else? Chain was almost a linked set of symbols that held together a sentence, and rattled past my cheek pulling my ass along. Grass was brown shoots in dusty thin loam.
24. An oilfield rat was a man many people didn't think acted like a man. An oilfield hand was a man who bored a hole through earth and sky and brought forth from it crude, and they rarely went home after performing this divination, but went to the bar, got in fights, and did too many things for which they became rats.
25. Too many heart shots and dice rolling and hard kidding to make sense of the hoolala and the doodlebugging
26. and the simple grunting of the day.
27. Time wasn't a gear, but it turned,
28. and in turning showed an old side and an old side.
I've been trolling through photographs in the public domain for the past few years finding images that would capture my imagination and lead me to a memory, but recently I've started taking those images and making them part of the essay. I love "exploded view" diagrams especially—seeing the constituent parts of a compass or a pumpjack or a transmission reminds me about what an essay is really tasked with doing: looking at how a memory works. The shape of the image also suggested the essay—I have a limited amount of room in which to work and end notes that had to find some sort of correspondence with the image.