Cibola 58

This entry is part 57 of 119 in the series Cibola

Esteban (3) (cont’d)

Yet Esteban too had had an entourage,
just as on the present journey: at times
in the high hundreds, more numerous
than all three of theirs combined.

He remembers the deer drives
staged in their honor
as they threaded the sierras,
the circle dances & all-night sings,
the masques performed at midwinter
to entice the animal masters
to lay down their burdens.
One whiff of sage or cedar
still summons up what seems
in memory now like a three-
month-long feast, & his head
swims again with strong tobacco,
soft laughter, firelight dancing
in rings of smoke-brown eyes.

All the same, they barely
slowed their headlong flight,
even when the Indians presented them
with the now-famous six
hundred hearts of venison.
Beyond accounting were
the armloads of loot–pelts
& pots, rugs & baskets–they had
to refuse. And their stature grew
with each refusal, each festive
plundering: the host villagers, usually
outnumbered, had little recourse
but to take the raiders’ places
as members of their entourage,
try & reacquire a set of household goods
at the next town. Thus it grew,
Esteban & the others awed
& a little frightened by their role
in something so big, so hard to unpuzzle.

They hid their confusion with
frequent sermons on holy charity
& the transience of earthly things,
trusting Esteban’s quick wit
& divine inspiration to somehow carry
the meaning across.
His hands mimicked birds when
they spoke of the immortal soul;
eternity became a very great number
of winters
. And a Being who lives
in the sky
? Well,
that part they all seemed to grasp.
Everyone knows the Sun is a stern father.

But Cabeza de Vaca would make
the sign of the cross, commend
their souls to Christ
& the whole assembly would smile
& shower them with still more gifts.
Blessings, Esteban realized, were
the one thing that always translated well.

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