Los Naufragos

We stand up, trembling, wailing, weeping.

The waves of the storm

have capsized the boats we made

out of determination and fear.

We lost the captain to his own self-interest,

gone into the water

like a trout

disappearing beyond the reach of light

or reason.

 

They came for us, feathers crowning their heads and

arrows shot straight and true.

They feared us

which was only right

for we had crossed a distance

they could not fathom.

They were not Christians,

only savage dogs

that we hoped would someday convert,

or be converted into corpses.

The land was all water

and fallen trees

and we spent so many months

hungry

thirsty

naked and half-dead.

But let me not speak of the these things,

of which you cannot imagine.

 

We did not know where we were,

except lost in our own misfortune.

The land was inhospitable

and its people terrible savages.

Long were the nights in the cold,

fearing for our lives, praying to

Our Lord that he might save us.

 

The last thing I have in my mind,

the last image of that place

that will not leave me,

is the tall and handsome stranger,

fit and strong,

weeping for our misery.

I cannot name him.

He did not speak our language

and I could not speak

the tongue of savages.

I see his face lit in the small halo

of the bonfireā€™s light, weeping.

 

That was long ago,

and all his people are now gone,

leaving the land empty,

water and fallen trees,

oysters no longer harvested.

I cut my hands trying to pull food

out of the salty water, so great

was my hunger.

I drank the bitter water, so great

was my thirst.

 

The stars are bright and the wind

strong. A storm comes and our

boats are set off course,

tumbling into dark water.

 

That is all there is, now:

Memories, moonlight splintering into

spider webs over the dark water.

I sat on the boat, many years later,

and went back to

Christian lands.

I never saw those men again.

It was as if they had never

touched me, never saved my life,

never gave me fresh water

or built a bonfire so I could

sit and be warmed in

my nakedness.

Christ had not touched them,

those unredeemed savages,

lost in the storm of a superior nation:

Mine. The words feel like

hunger in my mouth and I

taste blood. The boat rocks back

and forth, safe now, safely sent back to

Christian lands. No one is left to wonder,

what happened to that

man, whose life I saved? What came of

my compassion, my pity, my grace?

 

The storm rages, and we stand up in

the waves, shouting, trying to hear each other above the storm.

But long before nightfall

long before salvation

all who are left

will be drowned.

The Past

We think of the past as a place, and measure our distance from it — leagues and fathoms and miles — as if it were behind us, rather than within us, carried along with all its burdens, its hurts, its many horrors.

We try to bury it in the ground, its bones, the remnants of its flesh, but still it lingers, the grinning skull of its face. It stays close by me, abides with me, sits close as a lover or friend, one hand on my arm, face upturned to catch the light of my gaze.

How I wish it had a body, a beating heart. How I wish it were separate from me, apart. How I wish I could leave it behind.

I wish the past were a place, a foreign land I could swear never again to visit, instead of what it is — this burden, this flesh, this grave.