Cibola 19

Esteban (1) (cont’d)

Single-file they set out
through the scrub: no choice
but to keep to the narrow road
in this wilderness where everything
wears a thorn. Only up
in the hills can they range
more widely, rambling
through the open woods
that match the image he carries in his head
based on his mother’s stories
of the African savanna.
Outlaws & sorcerers, wild beasts
& other famished beings
make their homes in the bush:
that’s why the people keep
to their towns, risking slave raids
by impoverished kings.
As far
as he can figure, the highest
points of earth throughout
his mother’s country
must have been the termite mounds.
That’s where the strongest prayers
were aimed, it seemed–
where the oracles most often preached
the saving blood of roosters.
If mountains didn’t exist . . .

Shouts from the vanguard:
some sharp-eyed hunter
has shot a quail where she sat
motionless on her eggs
in the middle of a thicket:
prelude, he knows, to another
morning of killing, too casual
to call a hunt. These men know
how to fish for rabbits in their burrows
with sharpened sticks,
can run down any deer
so careless as to have left
its tracks in the road.
This he remembers from before,
this traveling light & trusting
in Whomever: the holy way.

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