When Helen and I first began traveling

     A long time ago, when my wife Helen and I first began traveling further than the grocery store we use to tell each other, “Let’s go now because someday when we aren’t able, we’ll have memories.” And I would add, “A closet full of slides and photosto help us remember.”
     It looks like that day is approaching. We were set to fly to Albuquerque on Feb. 15 and spend 10 days in the vicinity until my right hip became dysfunctional. Now it’s “further testing” and knocking down the inflamation until we find out what is wrong.
     Our focus was to be a Road Scholar week tracing the struggle of New Mexico’s conversos and Crypt-Jews. Among the sights we were scheduled to visit are Acoma Pueblo, the Cultural & Heritage Institute and Chayma’o chapel. Below are photos and poems and a paining by Helen Harris from trips in 1998 and 2007.

Child of the Desert

Dry brush crisscross desiccated

saguaro ribs bound with twisted

fibers to weathered poles. Specks

of shade in a solar sea cast

their patterned light over an infant

sleeping in a hammock gently

rocked by grandmother sitting docile

in her cobbled chair, beside a

castoff table draped with checkered

oilcloth, its tear tucked under an

                                             AM radio playing faux native

                                             music from an Anglo world

                                             across the desert, fifty miles away.

                                                        Museum of Indian Arts &

                                                        Culture, Santa Fe, NM

Sky People of a Thousand Years

for Orlando Antonio (1958-2007) Acoma Pueblo Guide

 

A warrior of many days,

sits on his kiva-step,

high above the desert floor.

In a voice low and worn,

he remembers climbing

with sky people of a thousand years.

 

When golden fire touches the west,

we People-of-the-White-Rock scale

this sandstone cliff to glittering light,

up a cleft, over boulders and scree,

ceaseless steps scoured by sandaled feet.

 

With vessels of medicine, water,
                                             and meal

on our heads, we climb
                                through darkness,

clutching handholds carved in rocks

         by sky people of a thousand years.

 

We reach for our lofty place.

Grasp the niches of time.

Pull through black to a clear day.

Rise another step,

         we sky people of a thousand years.

                                  Acoma Pueblo, NM

 

Devil’s Club Walking Stick

Some say that when you find a topic that catches your eye, you will write about it in different ways once, twice, thrice, maybe nine! Here’s one I’ve written as prose and now as poetry. Each time, it is the memory that I wish to convey.

An elder speaks in solemn tones:

In spring when leaves are full
and bark slips away,
select a stalk of devil’s club.

Cut it to fit your grip.

Carefully peel the evil thorns.

For a season, cure the naked staff.           


Use a shoulder blade of a deer,

to bone it smooth and dense.

Wrap your handhold with rawhide,

string amulets of beads and hips.


Quietly, take your walking stick

through the river’s shadowy thickets.

Listen as the inner spirit speaks.

Feel your walking stick’s magic

as the evil spirits steal away.


Quelcid, S’Klallam Elder, Teaches Us

As it appears in the Winter 2012 edition of Clover: A Literary Rag.

Quelcid, S’Klallam elder, teaches us to make walking sticks. She beats her deerskin drum and sings: Pick a devil’s club, peeled andcured, that fits your stature. Bone it with a table knife, as my ancestors boned it with a deer’s shoulder blade. Wrap the grip with rawhide. Hang on it amulets of rosehips and beads.

To touch diabolical “devil’s
clubs,” Oplopanax horridum causes me to shudder. With each stroke of the table knife, I remember horse-logging with Dad and my brother Jim on the back of our place in the Upper Skagit River Valley. I remember “swamping out” trails through devil’s club and vine maple before each tree was felled, and whacking out horse trails to drag the logs out to the truck.

I remember Jim bending the green devil’sclub stem, then letting go as I swung my ax. Up it would spring, slapping thorns into each of us, driving them through our worn-out gloves. Always, as we were pulling thorns out of our hands, dad and the team would show up, impatient and disgusted at his teenage helpers.From Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound to Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound, indigenous people have for centuries, burnt, carved, ground, mixed, painted, plastered, rubbed, steamed, tattooed, and infused roots, stems, inner bark, and berries of this genus of ginseng, sometimes with thistles, black hawthorn, prince’s pine, cascara, and bear grease, for medicine, magic, and fishing lures.

And now to the beat of her drum, Quelcid sings: Take your walking stick. Go quietly through shadowy thickets to the river’s edge. Listen for its inner spirit speaking to a shaman, his face painted with bear grease and ash. Evil spirits know the magic, they will sneak away.

Winter Chores During WWII

     This is one anecdote in an anecdotal childhood. No overarching meaning or underlying theme, no fatherson conflict, no prepubescence struggle; it is just an incident that if aggregated with those of similar youths, becomes a picture of growing up in the time and place.
     This barn was built be Tom Porter in 1912; the field is the one I crossed to go home when the fences were split cedar posts and barbed wire; and we had an excessive snow storm in Dec.-Jan., 1944-45.

                          Winter Chores During WWII

Six animals in their stanchions. Mangers filled. Freshly bedded. Gutter emptied. Shit-splattered floor scraped clean.

It’s a warm, moist, bovine world in this old barn. Temp will drop to ten tonight.

A pale moon, almost white, rises over Porter Mountain, cast the barn’s long shadow over its yard, down the bank, and onto the field below.

High above Sauk Mountain, Queen Cassiopeia and “Big Bear” dance around North Star.

Snow covers ground. Path through the field packed. Been there a week. No rain. A miracle.. No slush. Splashing girls at school is fun, splashing in the barnyard, not.

When the Skagit is high, the meadow swales in the old river bed pond. When a northeaster blows, enough ice freezes for kids to play. Don’t let Mom or Dad find out, or fall in.

Crystalline droplets glisten on straw poking through crusty snow. Ice settling on swale slopes crack. I’ll follow a fencerow home. I can almost see it from here.