companion work: Spirit of the Ground

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 II 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. Tarabal! Who beat his way across the Mojave to the Colorado where the murderous soldiers dared not follow.. Tarabal! Who went on to Sonora, some friendly Yumas at his side, to find de Anza clueless about the ride that lay ahead. Tarabal! Who crossed back, once again, with his captain close behind; blazed the El Camino del Diablo for those thirty-four blind and naive men. Tarabal! 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. . Tarabal! 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. Tarabal! 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, Tarabal! 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. Tarabal, first of the Baja field hands. III Tarabal: 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 bunker chunks

hunkered for the Revolution and cahones, 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 of conquistador 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 Peregrines, were dead. Moral? If you insist on one: Cochimí get deserts; padres get martyrdom. Pearl or Bead, same, same, by whatever hand, the history of clay pottery, petroglyphs canal floaters, every green-card

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.
Buffano's St Frances - Grace Cathedral

Benny Buffano, "St Frances"
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

'Red Slider, 1999-2014
from California Scenario, in "Noguchi — The Man Who Entered Stone",
BigBridge Press (2000)

background image: "St.Frances of the Guns"; Buffano (1968)