By Keith Ekiss
In this spot where sandstone buttes
erode into caves, city founders
laid their picnic. Men and women
overdressed, bowties and bustles,
jars of marmalade, tablecloths
cover the barrenness foretold in scripture,
desert where St. Jerome fasted
from all temptation and tested
his love of God. These were the years
when the Pima began to starve.
The river dammed and drained.
In times of famine, they ate seeds
of roasted quail brush, called edam,
catclaw, pickleweed, saltbush.
Settlers observed the children never begged,
no matter how destitute. Rattlesnakes
were never eaten, even in times
of greatest hunger. Plates of beef,
pickled cabbage, days without work
so rare they photographed the bounty
of fruits that ripened into belief:
God meant what they planted to grow.
Home before nightfall, a woman pities
the Pima girl she hires to sweep the house,
the mistress insisting with Christian effort
you could remove every speck of that dust.
New Issues has recently published Keith Ekiss’ book of poems Pima Road Notebook.