Cibola 30

This entry is part 30 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (1) (cont’d)

Only Francisco stayed strangely immune.
He outlasted what passes for a winter there
on nothing but thin gruel of maize
& for Ash Wednesday took a piece
of charcoal from the mission kitchen
& blackened the middle third of his face,
from eyebrows to upper lip, ear to ear.

That at least had always seemed to Marcos
a more-or-less Christian act–albeit taken
a bit too far–until last week, on the road
north from Vacapa.
                        As they approached
a farming settlement, the friar spotted
a figure sitting in the shade of a mesquite
next to the village dump, & left
the road to investigate.

The man gave no signal to acknowledge
their presence, motionless
except for his right hand, gripped
a scratching stick that seemed
to possess some heat-struck
consciousness of its own,
worrying an itch just below his wingbone
with such exquisite slowness, Marcos
felt himself blushing–put the apparent
parallel with Job to instant flight.

A clay bowl filled with thin corn gruel
sat untouched on the ground
in front of him, &
the bowed head, in shadow, hid
until they got quite close
the fact that this man, too, wore blackface:
a solid stain, perhaps
some tar or resin.

Marcos inquired (through two interpreters,
his own & a local woman) whether
the Indian meant thereby to pay
homage to his slave errant, Estebanico–
an object of superstitious fascination
among all these people.
But no, they said, He separates himself
from everything human
to atone, to get clean.
He has killed.
–Killed whom?
–Three of our friends the Enemy.
They loot our granaries
& kidnap our sons & daughters, so
we have to steal their medicine power
to stay alive.


Estebanico: The diminutive form was used to connote social inferiority. (In this poem, by chosing to call him by the more neutral “Esteban,” I risk some confusion since “Estebanico” – or “Estevanico” – is how he has been remembered.)

our friends the Enemy: In native North America, relationships between “warring” tribes did not preclude periodic trading and sharing of rituals, and even violent raids were often conducted with the aim not of killing but of kidnapping children for adoption into the other tribe. And as I will endeavor to show here (and elsewhere), even killing can be construed as a form of adoption rather than, for example, as an attempt to dominate, humiliate or obliterate an anathematized Other.

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