Kaddish For Columbus

— Legend says Columbus was a Crypto-Jew escaping Spain's Inquisition, along with a boatload of illegal conversos, 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.

The Death of Columbus, Huntington Library