Thursday, May 6, 2010

Out of California (1915)

These are not The Saint Gabriel Mountains
where cool winds off the sea coast blow
and the wild onion flower thrives;
but still she blooms like the plant
in her white dress, maroon
striping on the hem and sleeves.
She knows the power of its stem
and brings its influence to Kenya.
When sliced open, the juice
can tenderize the toughened heel
or palm, prevent infection
while the pith is meant
to sweeten grievous things,
dreams, shadows, a lover
who keeps rising from the dust.

The natives who work her coffee field
are bare-limbed and unpainted.
Stripped of their blossom rouge
and river clay, they're left defenseless
against the heat of the white man's star.
They depend on her to treat
their weathered skin, to chase
the fright of ancient gods
who dare invade their hymns
with loud wind or thunder.

Seen as mistress of the house
and keeper of the garden's magic,
she incurs their trust, their awe.
Yet, like them, she has been resettled
into foreign ways, forced to accept
a fate that was not her choosing.
She married a merchant farmer
from Africa to please her father,
to repay a family debt. Love
remained part of the landscape's dowry.
Often, she retraces her position
along some rugged strata
where she walked with her pilot
towards The San Antonio Falls,

or sat between the wings
of his biplane as they turned
away from the city's fold;
water rushing
into a stone basin below
and dusk arching
over the distant hill
like an antelope
she still sees here
in the evening light. Her spirit
leaps into that moment,
tucks itself under the legs
of the springbok
and defies any fence
or bush set aflame by the sun.

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