Monday, September 7, 2009

Wendy Rose, Hopi/Miwok

Note: these skulls and crossbones are imbedded into the Santa Barbara Mission wall. More bone "art" is displayed inside the mission, along with the bones mixed with adobe to make walls. Wendy Rose's poem (below) was one of the first pieces of grieving for California Indians that I read, somewhere around the age of 30. Her words expressed outrage, disbelief, loss, and a kind of mourning for which I had never known words existed.

Excavation at Santa Barbara Mission

When archaeologists excavated Santa Barbara Mission in California, they discovered human bones in the adobe walls.

My pointed trowel
is the artist's brush
that will stroke and pry,
uncover and expose
the old mission wall.
How excited I am
for like a dream
I wanted to count myself
among the ancient dead
as a faithful neophyte
resting there and in love
with the padres
and the Spanish hymns.

A feature juts out. Marrow
like lace, piece of a skull,
upturned cup, fingerbones
scattered like corn
and ribs interlaced
like cholla.
So many bones
mixed with the blood
from my own knuckles
that dig and tug
in the yellow dust.
How fragile
they have become
to float and fall
with my touch,
brittle white tips
shivering into mist.
How helpless I am
for the deeper I go
the more I find
crouching in white dust,
listening to the whistle
of longbones breaking
apart like memories.
My hands empty themselves
of old dreams,
drain the future
into the moisture
of my boot prints.
Beneath the flags
of three invaders,
I am a hungry scientist
sustaining myself
with bones of
men and women asleep in the wall
who survived in their own way
Spanish swords, Franciscans
and their rosary whips,
who died among the reeds
to wait, communion wafers
upon the ground, too holy
for the priests to find.

They built the mission with dead Indians.
They built the mission with dead Indians.
They built the mission with dead Indians.
They built the mission with dead Indians.

by Wendy Rose

from Going To War With All My Relations: New and Selected Poems by Wendy Rose. Entrada Books, 1993


  1. Good job! im in 7th grade working on a project about native americans i chose wendy roes because her work is rellly good. You should try reading some of her work like bone dance and from the ivry tower. :)

  2. I am looking for Wendy Rose's paintings online and can't seem to find any. Please let me know where to look. Meanwhile, I love finding the poetry. The depth of historical understanding from a unique point of view in the poems is awe inspiring.


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