East: Jerusalem, Mageddo
where Christ will return in glory.
South of East: Peru. México. Kingdoms
condemned to be beautiful & rich.
West of the South Sea:
Cipongo. India. Cathay
of the Great Khan.
Fabled missions of Prester John
& the Apostle Thomas, patron
of all who wrestle with a literal mind.
North: Cíbola. Now only
some sixteen days off.
And lately the friar hears
it’s just one city, richer than some–
though not as rich they tell him
as Totoneac downriver to the west,
where in the hottest, driest part of
the land one can walk
for a week & never lose sight
of green, well-irrigated fields.
A miracle of the kind
he’s come to expect
from a lifetime in the Rule:
great poverty the most fertile ground
for sustenance, a lodestone
for earthly blessings. See
how all these Indians have fed
& honored him, pressing
to touch his robe, erecting
triumphal arches . . .
In a sudden vision as he kneels
in meditatio, the hated Francisco
hangs again from the cross–but this time
a true imitation, an Indian Christ.
Out of the hole in his side spills
an enchanted waterfall, a rain
of flower petals in every color
including a few he can’t remember
from any rainbow. Four
Indian women weep at the foot
of the cross–a twisted snag, long-dead
except for one thin ribbon of bark
& a single branch of the crown.
But it sings, this tree, it breathes.
It has a heartbeat. One of the women
straightens up & hears it: he thinks
it’s Martha, the one with callused hands,
it hurts her back to kneel so long.
Her face glows, transfigured.
Whatever news she hears will save
her people. This voice no longer like his
speaks with assurance.
(To be continued.)
Totoneac: Historical anthropologist Daniel Reff interprets this otherwise unknown toponym in Marcos’ Account as a reference to the center of Hohokam civilization in the vicinity of modern Phoenix, Arizona.
the hated Francisco: See Marcos (1), from Cibola 24 on.
The images of the enchanted waterfall and the talking tree both come from Yaqui Indian folk Catholicism. (I’m not trying to suggest that Marcos de Niza was ultimately responsible for those motifs, simply that he is beginning to think in a more Indian fashion here.)