Kaddish For Columbus: Prayer for 500 Years

—Legend says Columbus was a Crypto-Jew escaping Spain's Inquisition, along with a boatload of illegal Marranos, in hopes of settling in the New World

I believe in my animal twin:

Together we bellow and embrace
in arms of darkened hills
winding above the Rio Grande,
along the Sangres and Santa Fe, up
to the Pajarito plateau.

I believe in the air
at this elevation, in its power
of redemption. I believe
by grace of
some ineffable pronouncement, I live
Not like some newcomer fish
thin-blooded, spitting out voiceless
sounds, but with lungs and gills
of a new-wrought beast, easy
in water and sky.

I believe in the rattlers' sect
Tribes who shed skin for sake of
divinity, and accept as fate
to be steered by a blackbird's tail.

I meditate on the Boundless,
on the Inspiration
that looks upon sundown's ruddy expanse
and bestows commandments:

"Roll in river
mud, inhale sage brush,
build your houses round,
clay red as the upper thigh
of a sun-burned woman
Live! Live!"

(I trust in these words.)

    *    *    *

I believe my Grandfather's spirit,
looselegged in khakis,
still carries a rifle and hunting knife
north and south
along this same river valley. 
I believe in the hemisphere
where there are no borders, no
papers required to prove his footsteps
on this land
for over five hundred years.

(I consecrate to his memory the number 500.)

I believe my grandfather
creates new Sabbaths,
when he looks in the river
at his rough, holy image. I believe
he'll awaken my own
sleeping image with his
odd beauty:

Skin, all at once the color
of mountain snow, of river mud
and adobe.  Hair like cornsilk
or tail feathers of
a red-tailed hawk, and a soul,
shiny and tempered
as loot from Obsidian Ridge. 

    *    *    *

I confess
My hallowed temples are
lands of dry heat. I've kept
sandy beds on too many continents, just to
be caressed by this heat. I forgive
my promiscuity, my love
for each singular oddity,
promising to give me a form
unlike my own.

I reaffirm my vows to the desert
as I taste its salty mouth,
and know why
pilgrims and prisoners come here:
To wander through pincushion
gardens, to see miles of
footprints in circles, to be engulfed by

I extol the amour of the cholla,
saguaro, beavertail, horse crippler,
spiny stars and cat claw.
I worship the slow-moving hunters,
green-eyed masters who see
what burrows below.

    *    *    *

I say Kaddish for Columbus
and forgive him.  I bless
his explorer blood cast within me
An alloy of iron, nickel, silver, gold, cobalt,
moon and meteorite.

I bless our ancient shamans
who changed him into a limping wolf,
so that every year
he too makes the pilgrimage

with the Vietnam vets
with the lame, the blind,
the shattered of will,
with the Penitente brothers
to Chimayo's candle-lit chapel.
He too rakes with his paw
at the replenishing hole
for a taste of miraculous dirt.
He too looks up with longing
at abandoned crutches
and metal braces
hanging on old adobe walls.
Gray fur is his purgatory
but I believe that one day he will
find redemption.

When the generations
of his heart
can sway, genuflect,
to the new humanity
his celestial navigations
have created?

    *    *    *

I glorify the shadow of spirits at dusk,
their aweful power
as they close in
flat-out run on hoofs
toward a wandering soul,
swept against a cliff
by force of animal will.

I swear, this tiny soul remembers
its first summer, holds
a breath under the breaking sky,
reveres blazes of pink, purple, gold
and covers its eyes
when a juniper bush
appears to catch fire.

At dusk, the earth's veins
give up their color
to the Sangre
de Cristo mountains. The hills
put on purple veils and bow
to the sky.

*Originally published in Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry
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