Saturday, October 11, 2008

Soledad, November 23, 2007

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. –


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
November 2007

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