Chronicles

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Chronicles: from Arizona History

Contents:
Hohokam Woman and Metate in Madera Canyon
The First
Chronicles
A Cavalryman Recalls, July, 1873
Late Saloon
Geronimo's Birds
Tombstone
Gunfight
Thursday's Train
Nogales, 1898
A Day in Arizona Territory
A Solomonville Hanging
Insane in Phoenix, 1908
Hopi
St. Johns Men and Women
Bisbee 1912
Salt River Merchant
Navajo Weave

Hohokam Woman and Metate in Madera Canyon

In oak shade close
to the stream running shallow
a Hohokam woman presses
her knees into depressions
they left when she rose
from her yesterday's work
and with a round stone
in the palm of her hand
grinds mesquite beans
into flour. She turns her wrist
a little to the left and back
while moving her arm
from the shoulder
and shifting her back
as she looks now and then
down to the bajada
and toward the huge rock head
that juts out of the earth
as if it had broken through time.
Leaning on her left arm
held stiff, she keeps pushing
with the right in a liquid
movement while the leaves
on the cottonwoods behind her
rustle and from a tangle
of twigs and dry grass she hears
quail passing through. Pressure
and release continue. The woman's
easy motion never slows until
she takes hold of a branch
on the tree that gives her shade
and pulls herself upright when
in granite's late glow the mountains
rise and the ridgeline
burns into the empty blue
turning slowly rose with clouds
drifting across the day moon
where it cools from ivory to ice.


The First

The first horse; the first
volley of gunfire; the first Mass
for the new deity; and the raven
still looks at thunder, head on,
expecting it soon
to clear.


Chronicles

The chroniclers were always sure to include
adjectives like glorious and brave
in their vocabulary; always conscientious
when they described the captains
and victories which brought
their country pride. In coats of shining mail
the soldiers rode their ambitions
behind a leader who was noble, wise,
and possessed of many virtues. Far from home
they sought the ancient land
to conquer and convert, terrible, like a meteor,
deserving of all honour for the spirit
in which they moved. Las armas
y el varon heroico canto; the written account
begins its journey through
a land of light and desert thorns
where the Pima bled from every Spanish word.



A Cavalryman Recalls, July, 1873

By the first of July we could smell
Apaches. We stopped close
to Castle Dome Peak,
glad for brief shade,
and a Hualpai Indian soldier
took aim at the moving scrub,
scoring a death with his shot, the sound
of which drew the hidden
into daylight. They ran. Oh, how
they scattered underneath
our hail of fire,
leaving a red trail of wounds
across black lava. The dead man
melted into the ground
as we raced past him, following
the blood to the bleeding,
who had to leave their possessions
as a man already dead would do
to whomever comes after him. There were
arms and food. There was clothing.
We followed the way
a memory follows the haunted
until they had all been corralled
and surrendered to Captain Burns,
who led us back
through sixty miles of naked sunlight
with thorns for vegetation
and no water except for that
in our delusions. But we returned
to bathe in commendations
while the last insurgents drowned
in their defeat.

Late Saloon

A deep brown shine on polished wood
frames the mirror behind the bar
in which the men can see
themselves become unfocussed
as they rinse their smoke
and laughter down
with curses. A lamp's waning light
swings back and forth
like chance
to illuminate the losing hand of cards
spread open on a table.
The air grows out of tune
as the evening ages
to a piano growing merry
while the drinkers lapse
into a starlit melancholy
and tumble into the night
from a sky of beaten tin
to one whose stars pass through darkness
like a stream of broken whiskey glasses
thrown toward the moon.

Geronimo's Birds

It must have seemed a good time
in December, late in the eighteen-eighties,
to wear civilian clothes
and find a patch of sunlight
in which to spread white cloth
for an officers' picnic
with the wives relaxed as though
the rustling in the nearby trees
had come from jays and not
Geronimo. The setting made
the food taste good, and when
a spotted towhee flashed
past the party, one lady
called it pretty while others looked
to see what made it fly. These were
nervous years with raids made unexpectedly
and with the heat came
hummingbirds like drops of blood
suspended in the air, present
for a second and gone
as fast as horses
fleeing into Mexico. A general
in July would sit back on his porch
curved into the canvas
on a folding chair and watch an oriole
perching high enough to see
whether there were Indians
close by, while Geronimo would never
rest. He circled every target
the way the red-tailed hawks do,
looking first from far away
and following the silence
to a kill. I never do wrong,
he told General Crook, without a cause.
And the Cooper's hawk
never takes a gilded flicker
without having an appetite. Geronimo's people
were hungry. They were quick
but the land on which they lived
changed faster than they
could run. When thick-billed parrots
flew in the mountains
Geronimo heard their calls
as laughter in the pines, and soon
he was no longer there to listen.
Then the parrots disappeared
and the trees could not remember them
when some returned years later,
only to be hunted by
the stronger birds, the ones
who were never moved away
and kept in bland captivity.



Tombstone

We could be forgiven
for mistaking the photograph
to have been taken at a crucifixion,
or else been modeled on a painting
from the renaissance, so composed
are those beneath the body, limp as it is,
against the pole, but John Heath
couldn't be forgiven
for his part in the murders
down in Bisbee; protestations
of his innocence as the white
handkerchief was tied around his face
be damned. The cross bar
is at the very top of the pole, but too short
to have borne the man's arms. The rope
is tossed over it,
but the lack of tension
in the left knee and the way the head
appears weighted down with resignation
suggest there was nothing more to be done.
The picture shows sky all the way
down to the grey suggestion
of a mountain as backdrop
to the scene. It was, according to the shadows
cast by hat brims
across the eyes of the men standing close
to the telegraph pole, a sunny day
for February, so the miners
dressed for daylight could enjoy it
after their hours in the dark. They turn
toward the camera with no urgency,
content to be a part
of a fine day on which there happened
to be a distraction to break
their monotony of drink and smokes.
The men had arrived at the jail
at the time the Chinaman was due
with breakfast and when the Sheriff tried
to stop them he was quietly removed.
It was their way
of advancing Arizona, they wrote
on a placard posted on the pole,
which made the occasion
a useful lesson to the children
whose mothers brought them
out to look, a lesson endorsed
by the coroner's jury,
who concluded that death
occurred through emphysema,
caused by strangulation, which, for all
anybody knows, was
self-inflicted.


Gunfight

After a good lunch, the two sides
took positions too close to miss and fired
thirty shots in half a minute. It was over
so quickly the ones left standing
knew only by the warmth
of the guns in their hands that they
were still alive.


Thursday's Train

He was just a tramp on Wednesday,
the man who roamed the Yuma streets
in a drunken state, and who
stopped to ask the schedule for trains
travelling west. On Thursday,
having slipped from a brake-beam
and broken where he fell on the rails
into an arm, a body, and a leg
with part of his head unaccounted for,
he was no one, no one at all.



Nogales, 1898

When the border was a street
between two towns
sharing a single name,
there were no flags displayed, only
shirts and blouses hung to dry
on the Mexican side.
On an afternoon too still
to turn the windmills' blades,
a train stood waiting
with the carriage windows open,
and a person drifted
as casually as a coyote wandering
across the line
past the scrub speckled
hills rising beyond the last house
where the desert still kept
what was its own.
A word called from one side
carried to the other then,
and Spanish
was the lovin' tongue.

A Day in Arizona Territory

On the wooden balcony
above the Chinese laundry
globes of satin light hang
and calligraphic secrets
frame the door to the room
where prayers burn to a taper.
The first man to wake up
from his opium sleep
comes out for fresh air
and as he paces up and down,
his pentatonic footsteps
make the day's first sound.
Walking around, you might
hear next the straw broom
in a small boy's hands
as he sweeps the part of Granite Street
where the apple and cigar stand
has opened for business, or
the bottles clinking
on the plaza as half a dozen
men set up their wares in hope
of earning the first cents
of a fortune. Above the soft
percussion of hooves on the road
when a horse pulls its owner
into Prescott on two wheels
come voices still hoarse from the mines
and sometimes the tongue
of the Irishman who can't stop
reliving his part in the Civil War
rattles louder than the train
as it takes the final bend
before arriving. Just outside town
Yavapai women
are stripping agave to the root
preparing it to roast. They live
where they're allowed to
now, remembering when all
the land they see was theirs.
On most days you listen
to what you most expect,
with bargaining and boasting
through the hours, except
when there's a moment
so quiet you can hear
the platform give on Courthouse Square
and a bone crack
in a robber's neck.



A Solomonville Hanging

He said, "Well, goodbye all" and then the drop
was sprung and everybody thought
the execution had gone well. "Certainly neat"
according to Ranger Holmes, and one
of the best Sheriff Thompson ever had
the pleasure of witnessing. William Baldwin
hadn't intended to drink, but when Sheriff Thompson
offered him a flask of whiskey, he accepted
and eight forty-five in the morning
isn't too early when it's the last Friday a man
will ever see. Two hundred and fifty invitations
had been sent, and a fine crowd was assembled
to see the negro die a Catholic, having
converted to the faith and recommended it
to others in his position. The priests
said nothing about a confession, although
Sheriff Thompson was convinced of one,
the facts in the case having been sufficiently
in doubt, and nobody could prove
that the wounds to Baldwin's face and the cut
at his throat had really been inflicted by
the victim, Mrs. Morris, and not the two Mexicans
Baldwin said he found and tried to stop
from raping and killing the woman and her daughter.
The ground still soft with rain
gave up the tall man's tracks, and all the intuition
of an Indian scout led nowhere except back
to the accused. After the arrest, a mob
tried to lynch the prisoner, but Sheriff Thompson
intervened in a manner befitting
an officer of the law. By July twelfth, in the year
nineteen hundred and seven
nobody spoke any more about the accusations
that Ranger Holmes had exercised
undue violence on Baldwin, of which
he'd been found innocent when he said he simply
"hit him once or twice with a light tin dipper
on the head," and the public concern
shifted to the state of the aging gallows. These
were announced to be serviceable
while William Baldwin took
a break from the merriment that was the manner
of his fellow prisoners, even though his smile
was described as "a little wan," to pose
for the photograph sent back to Alabama
where his mother might accept it
as his soul. She'd hear second hand
the story that her son had been arrested when
he went to report the crime, and about
the suspects whose disappearance
made the whole case so confusing, right up
to the end, which at least proved to be
"certainly neat."


Insane in Phoenix, 1908

Poor Mrs. Mary Hartnett
was transported from Jerome,
accused of believing a plot
to take away her Irish land
whose scenery she described
in terms so lucid they brought tears
to the eyes of physicians considering her case,
while her husband alone
said she ought to be committed.
Judge Phillips also sent
the Russian, Harry Feldman,
plagued by dementia and opium
to the territorial asylum, along with
J.T. Stinson, whose father-in-law complained
that his mind was shaken loose
by money lost, causing residents
of Mesa to fear for themselves.
Old Christian Bauer had nobody
to speak on his behalf
when he was taken from the little wagon
he had filled with garbage for eight years,
as he wandered between hallucinations
along South Seventh Street, where
little girls would never again hear
his harmonica playing as they passed him by.
Nobody visited him
when he looked out of his window at
the vegetable garden, the alfalfa, grain
and the orchard with its many vines and trees,
not to speak of the lake
into which a madman could stare
and see his face reflected
as if he were sane, as if life had been only
an institutional mistake.


Hopi

Through a world of ladders and adobe
walls, a man is absorbed
while he walks
with the ground soaking up
his attention, and his clothing
wound tight
as solitude around him.
His shadow slides across the ochre ground
and curves
up against a wall
glowing with the warmth of the hour.
He begins the descent
along the light's final refuge
before the dark side of the mesa
tumbles away
into the open space surrounding it,
passing as he goes
a rider climbing slowly
from the snake's earth
to the eagle's sky.


St. Johns Men and Women

The ladies of the St. Johns Mandolin and Guitar Club
are arrayed in many colours
with frills and silk and lace
as a background to the strings they pluck
on handsome instruments, yet
even in melodic company
they cannot muster a smile between them;
rather stiffen when
they and not their music
draw attention. When they begin to play again
they lean and sway and soften
as the ice melts along their spines. The men
with rifles tuned and ready
for anything fit easily
inside their clothes, with legs in leather chaps
crossed so casually
as to match the ease with which
they slip more bullets from their belts
and laugh all the way back home
about how simple it is
to rework the brands
and make someone else's cattle
their very own.

Bisbee 1912

When they walk along the Gulch
the men step sharply
to avoid the effluent that streams
freely past the restaurant
whose tablecloths are always fresh
and the store
where food is canned and stacked
in pyramids and rows as orderly as if
it were a temple where
a man might pray for his own
preservation. Everybody breathes
the same air, with the smelter
never sleeping. Karl the tailor's
job is to make them look human
once they have washed away the mine dirt,
and Nobile sells them general
merchandise with his colleague, Medigovich,
who's growing concerned
that the Serbs who came to work
are leaving to fight
their country's newest war behind a flag
that leads them to the train
waiting to allow them time
to reconsider their allegiance
to the present versus that to the past. As the brass
band plays to urge them on
the ladies at the YWCA don't even look up
from the linens they repair
while they sit in wicker chairs
with their sewing machine running almost
as fast as the needles
in their chattering mouths. They have
everyone's name on the tips
of their tongues, except for the ones
nobody uses, not here
with the border so close, where
Mexican describes each Jose, Miguel and Maria.

Salt River Merchant

Quong Hop sells barley in the dark
from a small adobe refuge
with no windows
where he spends each day
always in the same round-collared shirt
and blue suspenders.
When he steps outside for air
and stands at the doorway,
he leans back against
the rectangle of mystery
through which his customers must pass.
They have seen him
wearing a suit and bowler hat
in the annual procession
with the flag at its head and the gong
that is a golden splash
when he strikes it, but never know
what he is thinking
as they dismount from their horses,
and cautiously follow him inside
where he states a price
in Spanish, completes
the transaction in English,
and to say goodbye
reverts to his habitual Chinese.

Navajo Weave

With the wide and wind-shorn land beyond them
leading to rocks in the shape
of an Anglo imagination
cutting into the sepia sky, three generations
react to the man who has come from another world
to preserve the moment
of their meeting. The youngest
turns toward him with a stern expression
that objects to the disruption, while
her mother hides a smile
behind her hand as she leans
on a rough wooden post to enjoy
a joke that won't translate
into a language from far away.
The eldest woman kneels
at a loom suspended from a post of her own
with her back to the guest
and the threads
of an unfinished rug
inches from her face. She weaves
wool through an eye of rock, ties a knot
in the horizon, and binds
the stony foreground
to the sky; all with the motion of two
patient hands and a wall
of concentration
a black box of magic cannot break.

Acknowledgments:
Ascent Aspirations: Chronicles
Brevities: The First
Eunoia Review: Late Saloon, Nogales, 1898
Iodine Poetry Journal: Hopi
Minotaur: St. Johns Men and Women
PoetryMagazine.com: A Solomonville Hanging
The Sandcutters: Navajo Weave
Third Wednesday: A Cavalryman Recalls, July, 1873
Toucan Magazine: Insane in Phoenix, 1908
Unstrung: Hohokam Woman and Metate in Madera Canyon, Geronimo's Birds, Tombstone, A Day in Arizona Territory, Bisbee 1912, Salt River Merchant
ZYX: Gunfight, Thursday's Train