Esteban (3) (cont’d)
It was never clear who decided
that they should all play doctor:
probably, again, the Indians.
But the same strange enthusiasm
gripped all four. A fever.
He remembers the first morning
after their escape, how the air,
suffused with floating tufts
of cottonwood down,
turned to fiery gold through
the sun’s alembic. They took
deep lungfuls of the stuff.
Praise God–the world’s nothing
but pure Spirit! Castillo exclaimed,
& for a long time thereafter
everything that happened seemed only
to confirm that inspiration.
Though now, plagued
by second thoughts, he wonders
why he never considered the obvious
opposing proposition: that this so-
called spirit simply masks
holy matrix, uttermost matter.
Which might’ve been closer to the views
of their various hosts, who saw them
clothed in power despite their nakedness
& their condition as virtual hostages,
unshod & shuttled from tribe to tribe
like the sticks or balls of rag
in an Indian relay race, propelled
by deft maneuverings
of toe & instep.
Twice entrusted to old women
as they bridged borders
between hostile nations,
too delicate a thing for male
guides to try. And not quite
as galling as he would’ve thought:
the women were chosen because
they had nothing to prove.
He can still recall that first
sensation of power, ocotillo wands
crackling in the faintest breeze,
a slow fire unfolding at the tips
of a leafless palo verde,
the sound of water dripping
in a dry land. And each night
when the sick & wounded
crowded in to be cured, the gourd
whispering in Arabic transported him
back before the Fall, to the place
where earth & sky come together
at the source of four great rivers–thus
the old man who gave it to him
described its origin.
To use it, he’d had to learn
how to sing from the Beginning,
how to act
as if the world were still
somehow in essence a garden:
it lurked like a troupe of angels
in the wings. Waiting for the curtain,
the shroud that cloaks the East
to rip, to fall . . .