Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Language of Truth

In 1769, the arrival of two Spanish ships in Alta California coincided with a total eclipse of the sun, in conjunction with the shock of a powerful earthquake. "So it seemed," wrote Junipero Serra in his diary, "that the insensible things of earth and heaven had in this way manifested themselves in the new conquests as heralds and advents to the benighted gentiles, to incline their hearts to receive the truths of the gospel, proclaimed by the ministers of the living God."

The giant snakes stirred inside earth, struck
a few hours after dawn.  Thrown down
on our faces, we cried out – rocks thrust
upward, a fearsome roar rattled our ears –
how our Mother writhes! Then Sun, source
of life, disappeared mid-day, covered
by Moon’s broad face; star-beings shown
like abalone shell in sudden night.
Our star-mapmaker offered fervent prayer
to each sovereign direction, brought light
creeping back, though it felt a lifetime
till we breathed balance again.

We were wary, therefore, when a ship –
bigger than a whale – came over the horizon,
and men, more corpses than living bodies,
crawled from floating grave to shore.  Pale
skins, hairy faces, blue-eyed, green-eyed,
brown-eyed, they died and died. The sands
where their white tents stood stank of death.
Did they not know how to catch fish?
Did they not know to seek out berries,
heavy on the bush?  Did they offend
their gods, or travel beyond the reach
of their gods?

Another ship arrived, pale but abler men
who buried and buried; then men on foot,
strange gray deer bearing burdens of food
and hard heavy tools smooth as stone, sharp
as our best obsidian. When the beasts lay down,
too exhausted to carry any more, the pale men
beat them. It did not make the animals rise. 
In the morning, some men raised up barren
prayer trees; others in long skirts chanted
ugly foreign words, hands waving bowls
of smoke, meaningless gestures in the air. 

Was it the end of the world?  Now,
I wonder we did not hear these warnings
more clearly. Some of us broke traditions
of welcome; the law of sharing food, shelter,
story. Where once we would have brought
baskets of meat and sweet dried cherries,
now we drove off the pale men, their strange
stupid animals not-deer, not-elk.  Vacas.
We drove them all to the north. Some of us
said that was not far enough. Now,
I do not think any distance could spare us
the evil that followed. Earth spoke to us!
Sun and moon warned us!  We did not heed.
Now, we die of disease in their missions,
our blistered bodies weeping pus; women
and children mere vessels of rape and rage.
Perhaps the pale men killed their all wives;
none came with them.  Perhaps their women
revolted, exiled the pale men here,
and somewhere, on an island across the sea,
those wise women live peaceful, free.

We cannot see the sun of our next
generation. We cannot feel the earth
of our Ancestors beneath our bloody bodies.
We did not listen well enough. At night,
or behind trees in daytime, in fields
of strange crops, beneath blows from leather
cat o’ nine tails, we pray: let enough of us
live to tell this story. We will memorize it
in our hearts, trembling in awe. Let us live;
we will teach it to our children forever.
If we live, we will heed our Mother's
thunderous voice: Her dark language never lies.

- Deborah A. Miranda

Monday, August 14, 2017

After Charlottesville


After Charlottesville

- with thanks to Rosalind Bell

Icebergs calve like this:
a glacier expands, expands,
crevasse deepens, geometry
meets water pressure –
silent, unseen, ignored. 
Thickness, impurity, stress,
mix and protest,
fist against its own body.
A crack like a sonic boom –
time hovers,
holds its breath – invisible knife
cuts the cord.  Ice slams into water,
wave rises like a wall.
In all ways this is a birth,
a creature entering the fiery world
from an indigo blue womb,
separation and creation
in one swift gasp.
Remember: beginnings
emerge out of endings.
We are the grownups now.
This is our inheritance.

Deborah A. Miranda

I've been full of pain, and a sense of wordlessness at the events in Charlottesville, an hour from our home in Lexington, Virginia.  Once again, it seemed as if words had been blown away by violence; as if nothing could be said but words of mourning and grief.

Two things happened to help jolt me out of that state: first, I thought of what my heart felt like - like it was breaking into huge pieces, calving like a glacier.  The word "calving" seemed both destructive, and creative. I had to pause and examine that image.  And then, my friend Rosalind Bell, herself a beautiful writer, said to me in an email: "We are the grownups now. This is our inheritance."  And I thought: it's horrific violence that she is referring to.  But it's also a kind of birth.  An awakening for many.  A surge of life and protest against violence and passivity."

I hope that comes through.  I will be honest: this poem surprised me.  I did not expect anything remotely hopeful to come out of my heart.  I'm reminded that birth, while amazing and holy, is also traumatic and violent for the being involved. There is no way to go from the peaceful floating in tranquility, your every need met, to the outside world where temperature, light, touch, and sound are no longer centered around your comfort.  There is no way to avoid the pain of life.  But it's life.  It's life.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wise Self Says

Wise Self Says

you are neither god
nor goddess,
but a scrap
of flesh and blood
wrapped around
the embryo of a soul.
Some roads are maps;
some maps are mazes.
In each case,
is a kind of compass.

There will be angels.