Stormlight, a poem on the Pueblo Revolt
(the Pueblo Revolt, 1680)
in his midnight cell
approaching his four-hundredth year
is afraid to die
and have a life’s deeds weigh
upon his soul.
His story is sequestered
in the quill he holds,
waiting for each lightning flash
to illuminate his desk
long enough for him
to write, and it all begins
in the time before:
Days of the year balanced each
upon the next all the way
from winter rain to the ripening
saguaro in the month the O’odham
call the first. The people wandered
with the seasons and returned
from mountain slopes and floodplains
having gathered fruits and sensing
where water would fall next. They tasted
nutrients in silt and knew the eyes
of every animal as closely as the colors
of their many beans. No storm
was ever wasted, neither were the cholla
buds, the yucca or agave.
A wide metate was the surface
of the world, on which mesquite
beans and sunlight were ground
into sweet flour, and the forests were tall
by the river before the land
needed words to know
its own history.
And thunder rattles the horizon
shaking loose memories
from the rain-torn sky. In the long ago light
threaded through the dust
in a library silent
with reading, the Lady in Blue
stood before me with her smile aflame
and spoke about
those in the desert without faith.
She fell asleep in Spain
and awakened among thorns and thirsty light
to greet the doves and the coyote
who believed only
in himself. She emptied her heart
there, and let miracles
flow from her palms
as she spread them to show how
to collect water from the stars to drink.
Then she became light
flying at the speed of faith
back to her country. I knew then . . .
And he stops writing
when the air is dark as time.
The aching mission doors
opened when he touched the bolt
to enter and kneel at the retablo
whose saints looked at him
with features carved until they hurt
as the lines tightened
in his churrigueresque face
and he told the wood
he understood: I too
am just an instrument
tuned to feel pain for as long
as it takes to make it beautiful.
When the hinge in the spine of his Bible
creaked open the Word
lay in his lap like a snake
about to uncoil, and the bats
who slept above the incense
awakened and became a long black sigh
carried on the wind as he said It is time
for rice and bitter herbs, time
for the evening chocolate
and to take down the whip
that hangs on the nail
beside my bed. The wind
has many tails.
In the month the doves
with a white stripe on their wings
were back in the mesquite
valleys in the distance
rippled with unrest. Soon the Lord
would die for the sins
of the rebels and soon He would rise
to float among the vultures
who look down with priestly faces
on the land. No village was too remote for God
or the army to reach as nighthawks
returned to the evening skies
and redstarts to the streams.
At the tip of each
ocotillo stem a flower appeared.
The priest proclaimed them
to be the color of wounds
suffered by the Savior, but the people
said among themselves
that before he came
they had never seen a man
with a wax seal for a heart.
In the summer sixteen-hundred-and eighty
a Black Witch moth
hovered above the candle
by which I recorded the flash floods
that carried my brothers away
and only when
the sky cleared did I ask myself what
had we done to draw
such anger from the earth
we had come to save.
The corn would not grow.
When the natives danced to return it
Governor Juan Trevino had
more than forty whipped
and hanged four in the plaza
at Santa Fe. The revolt began
when Popé from San Juan Pueblo
washed the lashes from his back
and returned to speaking with kachinas.
Churches rose from their foundations
and came back to the earth as dust.
The men were wildfire
running between villages and leaving
each Christ figure broken
and torn from its cross.
Decades of prayer evaporated
the way that water did
when the sun came back after a storm.
The skies rang loud with whoops
and celebration screams. The people of Jemez
were so happy they stripped
the paint from an altarpiece
and the clothes from Fray Juan de Jesus
before the sword that killed him
Three days to Santa Fe.
The siege lasted nine.
Arrows and stones contested
with gunfire. The Spanish possessed
more gunshot than water.
Fire took the church and opened the doors
of Nuestra Senora de las Casas Reales.
Thirst drove the Spanish to the roads,
imagining pitchers to drink from.
Their faith drove them
to execute forty-seven before
they believed in their horses more
than they did in their god.
We did not know, we did not
understand ourselves, so steeped
in our faith’s beauty
it was impossible
to see another in its place
until souls flew from the lip of a mesa
and across the desert
when a padre’s body
had no further use for it
and the Hopi watched with a joy
in excess even of that
the priest himself expressed
at facing the death he had wished for.
Every arrow pointed
to a martyrdom.
In one last flash
before a pre-dawn calm
the priest writes quickly to record
how when he found the room
in which his own confessor died
it took him days
to clean a scream
from the wall.