Cibola 103

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 102 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest) (conclusion)

As they pass south of Kyakima,
a boy herding turkeys on the hillside
hears the commotion, looks,
scrambles down to head
off the mask. He tackles it,
the others help him wrestle the man
to the ground, this poor thing
with no words
of his own remaining.
A mind given over
wholly to the elder brothers,
the eaters-of-raw-food.
They have the mask down but it won’t
come off. They pull & tug
& it screams curses in
the sacred language of the East:
it’s stuck fast.
The masker gasps for breath,
he’ll suffocate! They tug
& pull & stretch.

With one last scream the mask
comes loose, a layer of flayed skin
sticking to its back.
The mummer has become the Man
Without a Face, an impossible being.
Despite all the doctors can do
he dies four days later.

They try to clean the Shumekuli mask
as they would any other, scrubbing off
the paint, the pattern of raincloud steps.
Does a masker keep the god’s
turtle-shell rattles on his legs,
the spirit gourd in his hand
for everyday use?
The sacred & the common must be kept apart.

Except this mask,
the White Shumekuli–
a mask that should never
be worn lightly–
it won’t give up its newest
layer of skin.

The story about the White Shumekuli mask comes from Zuni oral tradition, as presented in two separate sources.

Nursery rhymes free verses

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Crow at the top of the tall locust tree,
let’s have some straight talk for once.
How many bright, round things have you stolen today?
A speckled warbler egg,
an ugly pink nestling,
the big brown eye of a newborn fawn,
the moon in the water.
With a snip and a snap I slurped them up.
You did all this mischief by yourself?
Heavens, no!
Steal all you want, my mother always said,
but be sure to share.

A fire in the valley: the sirens wail.
The fire trucks race through the water gap,
blowing their horns.
The sound travels up the hollow
two miles to the top of the mountain
where the coyotes live.
The pups have just woken up
and think they hear their parents
bringing breakfast.
They yip and howl at the sirens,
bark back at the horns.
Their mother comes at a trot,
dangling her long, red tongue.


The remaining verses are my re-translations of Chinese nursery rhymes included in the bilingual Folksongs and Children-Songs from Peiping, collected and translated by Kinchen Johnson, Orient Cultural Services, Taipei, 1971.

Day after day, the old cow is sad
and says nothing at all.
Every night, a cold wind curls around her shed.
What will become of her hide?
They’ll stretch it over a drum and beat it with sticks.
What will become of her bones?
The big ones will be whittled into hairpins,
the small ones will be carved into dice.
Her tired old muscles
will flavor the soup.

Lord Moon is bright,
so bright!
Open the back gate and hang out the laundry.
Washing makes white,
starching makes whiter,
but the fun-loving maid makes
a lousy wife.
A long pipe dangles from her mouth
and she holds eight cards in her hand.
If she wins, she buys flowers to pin to her dress.
If she loses, she flies into a rage.

Lord Moon is bright,
so bright!
Open the back gate and hang out the laundry.
Washing makes white,
starching makes whiter,
but a man too free with his money makes
a lousy husband.
He loves to drink liquor and he loves to play cards.
He builds a big pile of rolls and cakes
and brown flour biscuits – two silver dollars apiece.
But right next door, old Jiang’s third son
knows how to live well.
His boots are green,
his hat is green,
his robe is green
and he wears a green jacket.

Old thistle-seed,
old thistle-seed:
long white hair from top to bottom.
Along comes the wind and blows it sky-high.
It lands feet-first, with nary a scratch.

Get that bald man!
Put a vise around his bald head.
Squeeze out enough oil
to fry up some tofu.
As the tofu turns brown,
the man takes a trip to the underworld.
He sees the King of Hades
wearing an iron crown.
The bald man is so scared,
he gets a fever and burns up.

The little dog clears the irrigation ditch
in a single bound.
He doesn’t have a hair on his body
and he was born without a tail.
You can walk right up to him –
he never barks.
He spends his time running back and forth
among the cattails.

A mule for going up the hills,
a horse for going down,
a donkey anywhere it’s flat.
Who needs a whip?

Mr. Pot-belly, one day,
wanted to start a pawn shop, they say.
He didn’t have any capital that day,
so he took his pants to
another pawn shop, they say.

I know a little girl who isn’t afraid of anything.
She always calls the flower peddler “uncle.”
“Hey uncle, hey uncle!
How about giving me
a red pomegranate flower?
I’ll pin it to my chest,
I’ll pin it to my sleeve,
and everywhere I go
the ground will be covered
with red petals!”

Cibola 102

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 101 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest) (cont’d)

The other night in the kiva as
a few of us sat & smoked,
the daylight priest of Kechipawa reminded us
of what happened last year at the Yaaya festival.
The Helix Society had set up the fir tree
& all the townspeople were out
dancing, they’d linked arms
& formed the four concentric rings
alternately turning
in opposite directions–entrancing
spectacle for old Knife-Wing, no doubt,
peering down through his smoke hole
in the sky. Everyone’s there, from all
the six towns, dancing, when
the Helix People bring out the masks,
the Horned Ones outside
& the six Shumekuli at the center
circling the tree.

But one of the maskers has, it seems,
an improper thought.
The White Shumekuli mummer
suddenly remembers some transgression–
the night before, let’s say,
he slept with his wife. The mask
goes mad. The masker screams,
claws at his face
but it sticks tight.
He runs full tilt at the inner circle
& the circle breaks,
they try to catch him but the mask
has turned savage, roaring
like a trapped bear, smashes through
the next circle & the outer
two rings of dancers falter
& give way. The Shumekuli
who lives in the East has decided
to take his mask & go home.
Caught up in his guilt, the dancer
has forgotten who
gives life to whom: acts
like a child tagging after
an angry parent. He runs pell-mell
& the crowd dwindles.

The story about the White Shumekuli mask comes from Zuni oral tradition, as presented in two separate sources.

Martin’s Gap

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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We’re in Martin’s Gap, on the edge of the Rocky Ridge Natural Area in Central Pennsylvania’s Rothrock State Forest. We got lost for a while on the drive in, and now, wandering along the stream in search of the trail, we encounter showy orchids in full bloom. In the dim light of a rainy late afternoon, you almost expect flowers like these to begin speaking. It’s not as if they lack for tongues. I sprawl on my belly, trying to shoot their portrait in the gloom with my little snapshot camera. A pickup truck stops on the nearby gravel road: “Is everything all right?” “We’re fine, thank you!” That bland baldness that most speakers of the English language mistake for truth.

A few minutes later a barred owl calls from the ridge: Hu HU huhu, hu HU huHU-awl. He flies in to query us more closely; I’m not sure how to answer. Barred owls, like their close cousins the spotted owls, are quite unafraid of human beings and often seem curious about these strange, flightless birds trespassing in their woods. The traditional birders’ onomatopoeia has them asking, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

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In the forest, one cannot help hearing voices, I think. But a hundred feet down the road, we run into another group of wildflower enthusiasts. “Did you hear that barred owl?” “No! Where was he?” They seem like very nice people, but I’m reminded once again of why I shy away from large group hikes. A little while later, I find this crowd of open-mouthed puffballs on the end of a log.

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Wild yam and maidenhair fern: two ways to spiral. When the dervishes whirl, they say, they’re searching for something they know they’ve never lost. Or for someone, all in green, variously known as Adonis, Elijah, Khidr or St. George. The tighter the whorl, the more earth his velvet coat takes in. For a double helix, add one dragon.

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Narcissism is fine for the moon-faced narcissus. For orchids, we need another word: orchidism. You want mythic content? Surely the evolutionary tango of pollinator and blossom will suffice. If you’ve ever steeled your heart against jealousy and self-love and sought salvation in complete otherness, that was orchidian behavior – highly evolved.

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The sky slowly clears. We climb out of the shadow at the crest of the ridge, which is capped with strange sandstone outcroppings: megaliths, stone heads carved solely by the weather. I’m reminded that more light doesn’t necessarily mean less mystery – especially if it comes from the sun, which has always struck me as being full of darkness. Try staring at the sun for more than a second and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll carry its smudgy thumbprints around on your retina for the rest of the day.

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While my hiking partner relaxes on a flat rock to listen to the forest, I go clambering in search of still more images. Here’s a burl on a rotten rock oak, half-debarked: a coroner’s view of the brain. If you aren’t following a map, you find maps everywhere.

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Below one of the largest outcroppings, I hear low murmurs and creep cautiously around, not especially enthusiastic about catching people in some intimate or illegal act. But there’s nobody there, just this young Hercules’ club, otherwise known as devil’s walking stick – a common native colonizer of forest gaps. In lieu of branches, it sports enormous compound leaves and has the odd habit of producing so much fruit in the fall as to bend and even break its brittle stalk, otherwise fiercely defended with collars of thorns. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure. Its masses of berries rapidly ferment, making them all the more attractive to the songbirds it counts on to spread its seeds far and wide, shitting them out in drunken, erratic patterns – spirals, wheels.

For previous portraits of Pennsylvania natural areas, see The Hook and Tow Hill.

Cibola 101

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 100 of 119 in the series Cibola


Pekwin (a.k.a. Sun Priest, Word Priest)

This is how it unfolds, as plainly
as if it were painted
in lines of prayermeal:
when the men in metal come to Shiwanna
our warriors, outnumbered as they are,
put up a respectable fight.
This time our enemies enter from the west,
drink like fools from the Lake
that withholds nothing,
this time their dreams will burn off
like a morning fog. Will turn
to light, a white breast feather,
one grain of gold.
When they depart,
their stone-footed familiars
crumple under them.

This time we have better intelligence:
that their witch doctors–five men in brown
robes & two in tunics–will prevent
a slaughter. They ask after
the black man, yes–but not
to avenge him. They’ll come to feel
his death relieves them
of some distasteful thing. And greedy as
they all are–as apt to steal
& murder as any witch–
they’re voracious for tales
that enlarge upon their runaway
slave’s appetites. Why shouldn’t
we feed them?
Still, these strangers arouse
some sympathy. They are such children.

(To be continued.)


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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He sits solemnly across from her on the floor as she plays dress-up with her dolls, laying them out in a row, apportioning the outfits, smiling and talking to them, to him, to nobody in particular. He struggles to hide his lack of comprehension. He is eight years old, and imagines that he will be in love with her forever: not the slow grinding forever of school but the forever of summer vacation, which smells like pine trees and is always so full of promise.


Weeza weeza weeza weeza weeza. The black-and-white warbler’s song is as colorless as its name. If you listen long enough, you begin to think that it might be all the news you really need, a monotonous summary scrolling across the bottom of the screen, chanted under the breath, whistled through the teeth. It persists not so much beneath the other, more colorful calls but through them, until all songs seem mere improvisations on these two basic syllables, black and white.


To reach the ballot box, you have to cross through the line of people waiting to vote. You’ve followed the instructions and tucked the punched card back in its folder. The woman behind the box takes your ballot from you, folds and tears off the stub, and hands both back to you, one in each hand. “Keep this,” she says, “and put this in the box.” A little awkwardly then you drop your ballot through the slot, as if for a raffle. “Pick me!” you find yourself wishing as you walk away, tucking the stub carefully into the same coat pocket where you always slip the stubs from tickets to concerts, movies, ball games. Outside the polling station – a small Methodist church – the people lined up with handouts show no further interest in you. In the yard across the street, three men sit in lawn chairs drinking beer and watching the parade of voters. You’re close enough to read the brand name on the beer cans: Miller Lite. Unlike in the TV ad, the men don’t seem to harbor any strong disagreements about whether it tastes great, or is merely less filling.


Five minutes after the feral black-and-white cat trotted down the driveway, the gray squirrel still wants to talk about it. “You could always be wrong,” I mutter to no one in particular. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon. Under an overcast sky, the scent of lilac. Male and female cardinals forage quietly in the elm tree while wood thrush and rose-breasted grosbeak carry on about sex and usufruct. The sudden yank-yank of a nuthatch sounds like a stray memory from last November, when the grayness seemed as if it would go on forever.

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Cibola 100

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 99 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (16): Depositions

When Esteban had approached within one day’s journey of the city of Cí­bola, he sent his envoys ahead with his gourd to the lord of Cí­bola, making himself known, announcing that he had come to bring peace and to heal them. [But] when they gave him the gourd, and he saw the cascabeles [probably copper bells, manufactured by other tribes], he turned furious and hurled it to the floor, saying, “I know these people! These cascabeles aren’t a thing WE work with! Tell them to go back immediately, or not a one of them will be spared!” Thus he continued to rage unabated.

So the envoys returned, downcast, hardly daring to tell Esteban what had happened. But when they did tell him, he told them not to worry, that he [still] intended to go there, because, regardless of how badly they had responded, they would [still] welcome him.

So they went on until they reached the city of Cí­bola. The sun had already gone down. With all the people he brought along, there were more than three hundred men, and many women besides. They weren’t permitted to enter the city, but were put up in a large house with good rooms outside the city. And they stripped Esteban of everything he brought, saying that their lord had ordered it. All that night they gave us nothing to eat or drink.

The next day, when the sun [had risen] the width of a lance, Esteban left the house, and some of the chiefs with him, upon which a great number of people came out of the city, and when he saw them, he decided to flee, and we as well. That’s when they gave us all these arrow wounds and gashes and we fell, and other dead bodies fell on top of us, and thus we remained until night without daring to move a muscle. We heard loud voices from the city, and saw many men and women looking out from the rooftops. We didn’t see anything more of Esteban, but we believe he was shot with arrows, as were those who went with him. We alone escaped.



The death of the Negro is perfectly certain, because many of the things which he wore have been found, and the Indians say that they killed him here because the Indians of Chichilticale said that he was a bad man, and not like the Christians who never kill women, and that he killed them, and because he assaulted their women, whom the Indians love better than themselves.

FRANCISCO Ví?SQUEZ DE CORONADO, August 3, 1540, writing from “this city of Granada and in the province of Cí­bola” (Hammond and Rey translation)


[T]he lord of Cevola inquired of him whether he had other brethren: he answered he had an infinite number, and that they had great store of weapons with them, and that they were not very farre from thence. Which when he had heard, many of the chiefe men consulted together, and resolved to kill him, that he might not give newes unto these his brethren, where they dwelt, & . . . for this cause they slew him, and cut him into many pieces, which were divided among all those chiefe lords, that they might know assuredly that he was dead; and also . . . he had a dogge like mine [i.e. a greyhound, like Alarcon’s], which he likewise killed a great while after.

COLORADO RIVER INDIAN INFORMANT OF ALARCí“N, November 1540 (Hakluyt translation)


As the Negro had told them that farther back two white men, sent by a great lord, were coming, that they were learned in the things of heaven, and that they were coming to instruct them in divine matters, the Indians thought he must have been a spy or guide of some nations that wanted to come and conquer them. They thought it was nonsense for him to say that the people in the land whence he came were white, when he was black, and that he had been sent by them. So they went to him, and because, after some talk, he asked for turquoises and women, they considered this an affront and determined to kill him.

PEDRO CASTAí‘EDA Y Ní?í‡ERA, member of the Coronado expedition, recalling ca. 1563 what the Ashiwanni had told him


. . . [B]ut with these Black Mexicans came many Indians of Sóno-li [Sonora], as they call it now, who carried war feathers and long bows and cane arrows like the Apaches, who were enemies of our ancients; therefore these our ancients, being always bad tempered and quick to anger, made fools of themselves after their fashion, rushing into their town and out of their town, shouting, skipping and shooting with sling-stones and arrows and war clubs. Then the Indians of Sóno-li set up a great howl, and they and our ancients did much ill to one another. Then and thus, was killed by our ancients, right where the stone stands down by the arroyo of Kia-ki-me, one of the Black Mexicans. . . . Then the rest ran away, chased by our grandfathers, and went back to their country in the Land of Everlasting Summer.



Just as the sun went down, I’itoi came and sang there again. Then more people gathered and joined him. And before the night was half over, he made the dancers run because he knew it was time for Siwani to come again. As he stepped up the pace with his rattle, I’itoi said many things so that through this the people would learn that he truly had supernatural powers.

Sure enough, Siwani came with his friends and took I’itoi out and knocked him down and beat him until morning. The sun was already up when Siwani left him, saying, “Whoever takes this corpse, I’ll do to you just what I did to him.”

DOLORES, an O’odham storyteller, 20th century