Deborah A. Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area, and author of the mixed-genre Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, two poetry collections (Indian Cartography and The Zen of La Llorona) and co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two Spirit Literature. Currently Deborah is Professor of English at Washington and Lee University where she teaches creative writing and literature. Most recently, Deborah has been working on a collection of essays and a collection of poems in the voices of each California mission.
San Zombie de los Muertos Vivientes [formerly known as Mission San Diego]
First, hands made me out of wood and tule, cut raw. Then came mud and sweat and straw and grief.
I rose out of the earth brick by brick like an obedient monster.
I became church and prison, shelter and cage. I served as vessel for prayers by priest, soldier, Indian.
I learned how to count the lashes of a flogging. I held tight to stocks that held wrists tighter.
I drank wine and blood without distinction. I was created to devour people
made from the same clay as me. There! On that spot marked with a white cross –
their knives spilt the priest’s blood. I swallowed it. I liked it. Is that my curse?
Next, the people burned down my walls, my tule roof, my timbers from the mountains;
torched the friar’s beds and bright books. They re-fashioned me a funeral pyre, cleansed me.
I burnt to the ground. I was dead. I was glad. But you wouldn’t let me
stay dead. You made me rise from the ashes. New walls. Fire-proof clay tiles. A new bell.
More Indians. More blood. More scorching flames to whet my darling appetite.
Even years later when my untended bones began to melt, you wouldn’t let me die
my clay seeped back into the ground, my bells all stolen or lost;
even with no Mass, no penance, no priest or Indian left to protest, you brought me back.
Now you say tourist you say docent you say legacy you say education
and you remake me, remake me, you mix adobe and cement, cut new tile,
add signage, dig up bones, re-glue shards of pottery thrown out generations ago, you
put my trash on display like saint’s relics, desecrate the bones of the history.
I keep trying to die. You keep resuscitating my poor white stucco’d body,
haul me staggering back for another round – force the hearts of children into my mouth
and I eat them, insatiable, adobe set like teeth around my threshold. Have pity on me!
Undead, immune to decay, I live and live past reason:
O, relentless resurrection. Please. Let. Me. Die.
The tract through which we passed is generally very good land, with plenty of
water; and there, as well as here, the country is neither rocky nor overrun with
brush-wood. There are, however, many hills, but they are composed of earth. The
road has been good in some places, but the greater part bad. About half-way, the valleys and banks of rivulets began to be delightful. We found vines of a large size,
and in some cases quite loaded with grapes; we also found an abundance of roses,
which appeared to be like those of Castile.
We have seen Indians in immense numbers, and all those on this coast of the Pacific
contrive to make a good subsistence on various seeds, and by fishing. The latter they carry on by means of rafts or canoes, made of tule (bullrush) with which they go a
great way to sea. They are very civil. All the males, old and young, go naked; the
women, however, and the female children, are decently covered from their breasts
downward. We found on our journey, as well as in the place where we stopped, that
they treated us with as much confidenceand good-will as if they had known us all
their lives. But when we offered them any of our victuals, they always refused them.
All they cared for was cloth, and only for something of this sort would they exchange
their fish or whatever else they had. During the whole march we found hares,
rabbits, some deer, and a multitude of berendos (a kind of a wild goat). I pray God may preserve your health and life many years.
From this port and intended Mission of San Diego, in North California, third July,
FRIAR MIGUEL JOSE JUNIPERO SERRA
We here are composed of earth valleys and rivulets vines loaded with grapes an abundance of roses We Indians on this coast carry on very civil, old and young decent on our journey we treat with confidence and good-will all lives the whole multitude a kind of wild God
s o n g o f
I I ‘ U R*
[*one of the Kumeyaay words for Juniperus californica]
Interviews with California Missions Poems
~Note About this Series~
In the summer of 2014 I traveled to eight of the twenty-one California missions established by Franciscan priests from Spain during what is now called the Mission Era, 1769-1823. My purpose was to interview these venerable establishments in order to listen and scrupulously record for posterity their side of the historical controversy concerning alleged roles in the murder of tens of thousands of California Indians. Were these missions complicit in war crimes? Or were they, too, victims of Spanish colonial greed and conquest? What secrets did they tuck away in those adobe walls? My extensive research had not prepared me for the raw truth of these mission voices; not only was I fortunate enough to learn each mission’s secret name, never before revealed, but my sources seemed relieved to give their testimonies at last.