Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jacinta's Medicine

photo of Jacinta Gonzales courtesy of Monterey Free Public Libraries

Jacinta’s Medicine

Jacinta Gonzalez worked at the restaurant frequented by Robert Louis Stevenson in Monterey, and was called on to nurse him during one of his severe illnesses in 1879. She also recorded gambling songs and a coyote myth for Alfred Kroeber in 1902. She passed away in the Influenza Epidemic of 1917.

It was the same old story:
witless white man gets lost, plants
himself face-first in the Carmel hills, dreamy head
translating scent of oak into black words.
But mean spirits hunt the soft breath
of lonely men like that, take what’s left.

They pierce the body like knives, leave
a man swollen with poisonous stories.
Now he lies abed, fevered, breath
rattling his throat like a dried up plant.
They call for me: Jacinta, you know words.
Come lay your hands on his forehead.

But what I know are medicines from heads
much older than mine; crushed leaves
gathered from windswept hills, not words
so much as roots, not roots so much as story.
I made a plaster for his chest, planted
a mugwort bundle under his pillow. Breathe,

I hummed into his glittering eyes, breathe.
Heard the dark buzzing inside his head,
knew the spirits wanted to supplant
his soul. Between his fingers I left
the sticky cobwebs of a story.
The only cure for ghost words

are salty cleansing waves of words.
Sail oceans, I said, dream islands, give breath
to your own cure. Make up a story,
scare the poison out of your head;
I’ll catch it in my hand when it leaves,
strangle it, burn it, plant

the ashes under a redwood.
I planned
to sit up all night. He muttered words
in his sleep: pirate, treasure, shore leave.
When the sun rose, his breath
turned easy, his pale creased forehead
cooled. Just one more hard-luck story.

My plants gave him back his breath.
Together, we dreamt words to clear his head,
ordered poison to leave. The rest is history.


  1. I would love to get in touch with anyone regarding Jacinta. She is my Great-great-great grandmother.

    Teresa Cole

  2. Teresa, it's good to be in touch! I'll keep sending you information as I find it. I am related to her aunt, Viviana Mucjai Soto, so you and I must be related as well. Pretty swell.

  3. I am also related to Viviana Mucjai Soto ..through Placida Maria Losano. What a great blog.

  4. My husband is related to Jacinta through her daughter with Pedro Antonio Alvarez. Patricia (Alvarez)Davidson was my husbands great great great grandmother.


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