We receive with open hand and weave our circle to its end;
it matters not if we complete it, nor if we come up short of strand.
Spirit of the Man
The Franciscans had no special fondness for abuse.
Let us disabuse ourselves of that notion, convenient
though it is to accuse when the real game is to shuffle
the deck of power in the politics of blame; why spoil it?
this modern Hoyle of sympathetic magic that even we,
post-moderns, practice in our never-ending fascination
with a name. Better to honor our enemies before
we eat them, as we inevitably do, we do.
Make no mistake, the lash was used. By
the end of this long ordeal of mission servitude
more than a few punishments, just and unjust,
had been delivered. Nor is slavery a fact to weigh
on the point of its intent. Still, the padres didn't seem
to act with that implement in mind. We find instead
that common, cruel impulse the pious will affect
when, by their own election, they draw too close
to some species of moral affront -- which they really
have no business to confront. A peculiar institution
of religious twist, bending iron, lash or shame
into the replica of some divine, avenging fist.
For political or moral offense the church would act
and had their share, not less than now, of rogues
who, like Frere Zalvedia, in their scratch of priestly robe
appeared to take pleasure at the sheer vigor of the task:
women who miscarried, betrothed or not, so aroused
his demon passion, fifteen days of flogging, eighty more
in irons did not appease his appetite at vespers nor at leisure.
Was the crime, then, moral or political, or both?
When the lash and hobble were finally done,
and each Sunday the miscreant was dragged
before the cross, a wholly innocent infant mother,
(we suspect she was both dazed and wild)
head shaved, shamed and lost, forced
to carry in her thin, trembling savage arms
the torn and blood-stained effigy of a child.
Perhaps it makes no difference now, looking back.
The lash would blueprint checkerboard designs
as surely they were signs new towns and fields would fill
the future of the countryside. But there's a loose end here,
before can we eat those once treated little better
than the worst of enemies, lest we too quickly tie
the ends with footnote sutures and put aside the dead.
For, though the spirit of the bean, and corn and grape
was passed from the keeping of the Baja field hand,
it was from those he taught, those newly bought
with mission gifts, that the first braceros could not escape.
Ironically, they'd suffer most from brethren tribes
who'd replace them and, in turn, would trace their mark
upon the palimpsest of history. Now all are scattered as seed
displaced and blown across the winds of our modernity.
No matter now, the Cochimí are extinct. Finished, gone.
Most were childless batchelors with none to wail them beyond,
and we'll not repeat the mistake of placing blame, not here.
But let us honor these first men to work the California soils.
Let us not waste their attributes; let us grieve their nameless
graves; let us harvest their unpaid toil. Let us now ingest
the character of men and women who are, by deed and fact,
the mothers and fathers of our nightly tables. Let us remember
to bow our heads and consider the bounty of the dead; to praise
not gods, but these few men who planted the spirit of the bean
beneath the gardens of the sky
Hey, Gringo! I have a name.
Whadda you know anyway?
Thanks for the prayers, but I have
already buried my wife and kid
out there in the desert air.
They had names too. Enough with names.
It is to the spaces you need to pray,
to those great folds in the plan of things
that cradle this burning land; to the circle
that carries the wind, and always,
always brings it back again; and,
to the reservoir which renews the spirit
as cup by cup we fill the zanjas of the world
that fill and drain and fill again with tears
and carve the caves of giants out of rock.
Those are the sounds
of emptiness, my friend.
The ear of the desert
from whence I came, crossed,
recrossed, crossed again, many times
again. If it be merely name you require,
then let the name, 'Sebastian Tarabal'
be heard. Let that be sufficient to inspire you.
Who beat his way across the Mojave to the Colorado
where the murderous soldiers dared not follow..
Who went on to Sonora, some friendly Yumas at his side,
to find de Anza clueless about the ride that lay ahead.
Who crossed back, once again, with his captain close behind; blazed
the El Camino del Diablo for those thirty-four blind and naive men.
Who brought them to the Gila River after being lost for 'Ten Heroic Days'
and stayed until they were delivered to the rays of the Imperial valley.
who led them safely over sand and death, the Colorado Desert's gift;
who found water and a way on through, until we rested by the Salton Sea.
They named the town of San Sebastian after me; though short-lived fame,
for what later became "Harper's Wells" soon after was abandoned.
It was Tarabal!
who guided those men through a thousand-mile hell, triumphant!
as they rode through the gates of San Gabriel with sunset at their backs
and de Anza at the head, bringing news the Colorado Trail was now fact.
And if that was it, if that were all the story we could muster,
why that alone should be enough to put him in the books,
to set a little glory by his name and to remember
it was he, El Peregrine, The Wanderer, who led
Garcés and de Anza through that wilderness, loyal
to a captain and a padre who were also on the roster.
A few months later The Wanderer would cross again,
this time two-thousand miles with Garcés by his side,
then guide de Anza's second expedition back across again,
and then with Garcés and then, crisscrossing the Mojave
so many times, the desert finally had to yield as settlers
poured through gaps that Tarabal revealed.
He'd been from Tubac to Needles to the San Joauin;
then turned around and did it again from Bakersfield
to San Miguel, over the Tehachapis. Then on to Barstow
by a route the steel rails would someday take;
pressed on to Tuscon, unslaked; pressed on
before the emigrant trails or highways were begun. Soon enough
they would come with their wagons and shovels and guns.
They'd come, and just kept coming till the roads were thick
with them as they followed the footsteps of the Cochimí man,
a fading footnote of a vanished breed; his part done;
his spirit scattered over the great deserts of the West,
over the ripe valleys that lay between a hell full of sand
and the impassable sea; waiting for the orange to come;
waiting for the lima bean.
first of the Baja field hands.
A little wordy, amigo.
But, not bad for a Gringo.
The Spaniards would have had us
in tears. La Raza,
would be talking liberation,
and writing in pointy, terse
hunkered for the Revolution
hungry, lean, mean
singing the reparation blues,
I mean, who has not died
from a handful of rock
beside a dry well
in a harsh land?
As was our custom, I scattered Garcés gift-stock,
though his ghost returned to Yuma one more time.
But we knew -- his kindly smile, his mouth of God
was already filling with the dust of Coronado,
and there was a ghostly look about his eyes.
He'd wander a few years more, but it was done --
and what was that to me, El Peregrine
? whose own ghost
long ago had wandered far from where the setting
sun greets no one but an eyeless dune -- nothing there
to be pitied; no villages to set the evening fires; no stories
to spark dark bird feathers among those flaming branches,
nor free them to flare and arc into the night's enchantment.
It was the Yuma who had raised the phantom Tarabal
as I emerged from the widow-making kilns of the Mohave,
scraps of burnt skin and hideless tribe still clinging to my body.
más allá, más allá!" they cried, as I agreed to lead the stinger
far, far from the pueblos of the sun.
Let them dispense their shells and gather their pearls, I said,
over the blue Sierra to where Junipero Serra strings his beads.
But I was not the sole El Peregrine
, and Garcés,
no mere wanderer. Ever did his eye turn to the land of pueblos;
to the Yabipai, Moquis, and Papago; the Opas and Pima O'otham.
Nor could I dissuade him, though I sorely tried, for he sought
the pearls of Yuma and refused to ever set that strand aside.
The further away I led Garcés, the more he'd double back
until our great circle had cut through the bare white skin beneath
our wanderings. At each pass, new arteries bled raw ambition,
thick run as the star-black sky. Again and again we'd pass by,
and in the end it was my promise to the Yuma that did them in,
called upon the unceasing wind until there was no place to hide.
Boiled pride and malcontents, on either side, would do the rest.
For Garcés was cut loose and the governor cut off supplies,
choked the breath from those poor missions in a land of discontent;
so ill-conceived, as one biographer surmised, it could have only been
designed by "an artificer of death." In July, 1781 the massacres
began. By October the martyrdom of Garcés was at hand.
It was to the furthest reach of desperation I had led him,
yet still he stayed to say the last viaticums. Even as he bled
out on the sanctuary floor, his ghostly steps returned to thought
of those souls he'd lost to fury and to riot and, what's more,
that he might have said it thus, as his intimates declare:
"O, Lord, I sought no riches but the pearls
Which are thy souls lost in a wild estate."
But, by then, the wanderers, los Peregrine
s, were dead.
Moral? If you insist on one:
Cochimí get deserts;
padres get martyrdom.
Pearl or Bead,
by whatever hand,
the history of clay pottery,
petroglyphs canal floaters,
had a name;
Truth is, amigo;
we'd more likely
be running casinos
and cave-art concessions
south of the border
at the end of the pipe
where the money flows
from San Diego.
Still looking for the moral?
The desert is a good teacher,
Get along or die.
There are no options, my friend;
but, don't kid yourself.
The Cochimí never forgot
where he came from,
or how he got there.
Long before there was a Baja,
long before the first field-hand,
there were the gardens of the sky;
there were the nights that howled
over this empty, open land.