Pueblo I, New Mexico

by Peter Balakian

Peter Balakian

Between mud walls and the kiva
wind off the mesa broke his phrases,
as we walked with Billy of the Parror Clan

and with others. The windows
melting into blowing snow and the ripped-
off split-level doors jammed on the adobes.

Out of feeting blue, then white,
we caught bites
about the time of killing Spaniards

under the full moon,
after the medicine men were hanged
by Hernando de Ugarte y la Concha

and everyone was smashed between the mesa
and the hardened lava of the caldera,
and the Spaniards ate dogs

and roasted cowhides
till they died of black blood.

Through loud wind we heard how
a ventriloquist convinced the natives
the cross of the mission was speaking:

walk into the bullets--
and they walked into the fanatical air
where the Cruzobs ate wood

until the Virgin was cursed and let go
and that was the beginning, and the beginning
was 168o in the year of the friars,

the year the squash grew
out of the trellised sanctuary
where a dozen Christs were bleeding

and the after-stink of heads
rotted into the ground.

Billy said parrots were smuggled
across the Rio Grande
and then froze on the plateau

and the clan kept the name
because of the spirit-brother
of the blazing eyes.

A kid in a Broncos T-shirt
wanted a picture taken
in front of his iced-over window;

the blue-corn girls kept coming
and going as we stood there

in the snow that obscured the mission wall
and the Christmas lights

winding around the sagging turquoise
mullions of the dented windows
where the men left their marks.

The snow blanked the straw-mud walls
as we slid down the molten cliff steps

to the street where the Christmas luminaria
burned into the fissures of tumbleweed.

Nothing is written down in our culture,
Billy said. Even if imagination
is a shard of history, am I defiling it

the way the polymorphism of those birds
mimicked us with their thick tongues.
Greek soldiers carried them to war,

their wings rimed Tang pots,
the rococo ceilings of Dresden
bore their manic green.

If the parrots followed Geronimo
from Guadalupe in a dream
could we imagine that frantic air now

where Route 66 Casino rises on
red pylons that hold up the skittering dice
and the breeze of the shufle

as we drive into the wager and stakes
of high limits, the wheels of fortune
spinning, the cash-out buttons popping,


Ozone Journal

Last updated February 20, 2023