Cibola 18

This entry is part 18 of 119 in the series Cibola


Esteban (1) (cont’d)

Men repair straps, tighten tumplines.
The women bend to their grinding
of the day’s cornmeal,
casting a hurried handful on
the sun’s road. Esteban stirs
the dead ashes with his finger:
thirteen days since Marcos
sent me on ahead: this must already be
the 37th day of Lent.
Maundy Thursday.

An unbidden vision of the viceroy
in all his robes & ruffles making
a show of doffing his hat,
cradling the foot of one
symbolic beggar in
his soft white hands,
scattering a few drops of rosewater
on the already scrubbed
& perfumed skin,
while an obsequious Minister
Provincial of the Order
of Friars Minor
crouches at his side.
Holding up a gilded bowl
to guard the carpet.

His face must show it:
the women nearest him
have paused at their metates, eyes
large with concern.
“It’s nothing,” he says,
making the sign for memories.
Then smiling he chants
the hymn for Holy Thursday:
Pange, lingua, gloriosi corporis
mysterium . . .

The plainsong–or his half-serious
version of it–brings him
back to the present.
This cloudless dawn, worth more
than any reverie. These mountains.
Sing, my tongue, the glorious
body’s mystery . . .


the foot of one symbolic beggar: Mutual foot-washing was a prominent part of the traditional celebration of Maundy Thursday, and Western European rulers used to participate in the manner described.

Minister Provincial of the Order of Friars Minor: The head of the Franciscan order for New Spain, the position that Marcos de Niza would subsequently assume, after his return from “Cibola.”

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