I am, from time to time, overcome with the urge to get all poetical. Usually, I have a drink and it passes, but sometimes it don’t. And, now that I have a blog, you hapless virtual passersbys shall suffer the electro-splatterings of my humored urges. Sorry about that. Send me your psychic dry cleaning bills and I will file them appropriately.
In 1527, Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, nobleman, general, hero of the Moorish
Wars, was dispatched to the New World at the head of some 300 souls
to explore the territory of Florida and to secure its riches. In the
first months of that mission, he was separated from his support ships
in the labyrinth of swamps and islands on the southwest coast of
the peninsula. Presumed perished, de Vaca and his men crafted rafts
from the native cypress and drifted north and then west
along the coasts of what are now Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
Shipwrecked near the mouth of the Mississippi, de Vaca, lived for
five years with the local natives, who believed him a healer. He and
his few remaining men then set out on foot across what is now Texas,
turning south in hopes of reaching Spanish holdings in Mexico. De
Vaca arrived at Mexico City in 1535 with less than 30 men.
Upon his return, he was briefly enslaved. He came to be regarded by
some as a mystic. Before his death, he wrote an extensive and oddly
anthropological account of his ordeal.
He never regained his station.
Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in
A Letter to his Wife
on the Occasion of His Temptation
in the Seventh Year of His Wanderings
As it happens, there is no El Dorado
no city of gold,
no treasure anywhere in this uneven wilderness
not to strip from temples,
not to nail in crates,
not to ship home on galleons
the feminine swellings of Valencia,
the groves of blood oranges, the arches and gentle gardens
tamed by man’s hand to his comfort
verdant, green, fertile, kind
There are natives here
How they live I cannot imagine
We are like metal to the anvil beaten
diseased and rotting inside our armor
to worm-eaten whiteness
Armor become carapace, become sarcophagus, become chrysalis
inside which we either are dying or metamorphosing
and I no longer know or care which
It is evening, but
There is no respite, no gentility to this darkness,
no gentle rain, no warmed tiles on the wall of the piazza,
no remembrance of day,
demonic creatures issue forth from every crevice
the lunatic cackles and screeches
of the feral dog-wolves
spiders with curved, poison-tipped tails
fanged diamond-skinned snakes as long as men
and a sky fractured with stars that
holds no warmth
but sometimes a moon become goddess again
and we sometimes pray to her
because to see,
just to see,
in the pit of these Stygian nights
that is a blessing
almost beyond water
But nothing here is beyond water.
The cracked earth of your mouth
gives voice to the violence of the sky midday.
It is a refiner’s fire, an alchemist’s crucible
A day in it and you are changed,
these years in it and we are remade
all of us
folded and heated and hammered
and folded and heated and hammered
to an edge like Toledo steel
but to no purpose
save to wander as Hebrews
in a Sinai more harsh
and without Manna
and with a confusion of mountains
with every bush enflamed
until our ears ring with pagan senselessness
sure that the far horizon offers
no milk, no honey
but another horizon
beyond which nothing is promised
except that forty years
is an infant’s age
in this cruel vastness.
Would I curse Valencia now? Would the caress of grass
and the embrace of a mattress be a lover’s touch
or the diseased kiss of a whore?
Can I desire that softness again
or even bear that gentleness
after these hard years in which I have
come to embrace the charred wood of this cross?
Domingo was struck by a snake last night.
He will not last the day.
He mutters of visions in
a voice half our own
and half of this place
but of visions his soul does not fear.
There is a river today, hard against the wall of the canyon
its banks in the shade,
and trees even.
I have stripped off my metal
and my tatters of linen
and have waded into it as a man only
it parts before me and embraces me
a Red Sea and a Jordan both at once.
Those our Ferdinand’s charioteers drowned behind me,
Isabella’s corpses waving languid curses in the current
for I will serve the Christian Pharaoh no more
will not strive to make bricks of gold
from the straw of my men
nor from the blood of these natives
that is but mud to our priests until
washed in their Precious Blood.
The priests hold so little power in this place,
their Latin too new a language
within the ageless walls of this temple
a child’s babbling.
You cannot invoke a god that does not
know his own name.
I have emerged from this river
not to the voice of a dove
but to certainty that there is an empire here
unconquerable and to which I have surrendered
I am its subject now
and the work of my fathers is not my work
and I am not to be about it.
It was a fever only, visited upon the son
and broken now
in this unending heat.
How shall I be called now?
What meaning can a name from Valencia have?
What could a baptism have meant
in a land so rich with water
that men hide from the rain and
when wet, want only to be dry again?
Step from this river
and you will lick the drops from your skin
before the sun can steal them away
and you would taste those drops again
in the moment death seals your eyes
even before the lips of your first love.
We will turn Domingo into this earth
the men can stay or not as they will
the horses somehow thrive in this place and I will leave them to it.
The natives can pound my armor into cook pots
I have no need of it now.
I will dream of Valencia some nights
but it was a dream always,
a dust to which I returned.
I walk amongst dust now,
No need to remember that I am from dust
because I am among it
No need to return to it
as I am of it.
My own tongue swollen to strangeness
within my mouth
I have no language
and Valencia is so very far from home.
Voy con el dios, pero con qué dios?
I go with God, but with which god?