Louise looking out over the old Mission lands, now broccoli fields picked by dark-skinned workers from Guatemala or Oaxaca or further south.
Original adobe wall, melting back into the earth after years of exposure. It's only mud. It wants to go back to where it came from.
One of the few Esselen baskets still known to exist.
What we found - a small portion - lying on the ground in the dirt parking lot.
The Esselen Nation Bone Recovery Crew.
Reclaiming Soledad, November 23, 2007
Mission Nuestra Señora Dolorosísima de la Soledad, thirteenth in the chain of Alta California missions, was established on October 9, 1791 by Fr. Fermin de Lasuén, at the site of an Esselen Indian village recorded by Pedro Font as Chuttusgelis. When Soledad Mission was founded, the "Golden Age" was beginning for the California missions, and there was anticipation for another successful venture. – californiamissions.com
The Santa Lucia mountains thrust
up sudden, tooth-like, ridge
against turquoise sky, roots
grasping this sweep of valley.
Bell hanging from an iron post.
White roses in the raked garden.
The old mission lands grow
broccoli now, vineyards
drape along the mountains like jade scarves.
Brown workers picking since dawn.
I wonder if the soil recalls their bruised
Indian bones, if it ever forgot.
We have never walked so mindfully.
We find bone fragments on paths,
parking lot, edge of groomed green fields.
Here is a finger joint, here a tooth.
Here a shattered section of femur,
here something unidentifiable except
for the lacey pattern that means
human being. Our children run
to us with handfuls of ancestors
they keep calling "fossils" because
youth and privilege don't
let the truth sink in yet.
It's too big, too much to know:
our relatives scattered on the earth
where Mass is said once a month
and for three hundred dollars
you can baptize a baby in the old
chapel beneath turquoise, pink, green
and blue designs painted by our relatives.
Chevy trucks and Mercedes drive over
dispossessed white bones, grind
them into steel-belted tire treads,
carry them out to Highway 101,
scatter ancestors to the wind. Our Lady
of Sorrows weeps in her niche
behind the altar, dressed in black,
inconsolable. What has been done
in her name? She doesn't want to know.
We gather this chipped harvest
in our hands, pockets, cotton tobacco
pouches, circle the Mission slowly,
follow the woman who found our language
buried beneath her tongue, who places
living words in our hungry mouths
for us to swallow whole. James kneels,
digs a hole with a flat sharp stone.
Chris prays shyly: the old grandmother
hums inside her skin.
Ernie holds up the iridescent abalone shell, lets
pale blue smoke bless this lonely air.
The children hover like butterflies,
taste the past without fear.
Xu-lin, we say to our broken ancestors;
xu-lin, sprinkling sage, mugwort and tobacco
over the small grave. Xu-lin, we whisper
as the earth takes back. Xu-lin,
a plea and a promise:
note: xu-lin means reclaim, return to, recover
©Deborah A. Miranda