Rhadha Marcum

Issue #
September 27, 2015


                    As we are synonymous with and born of the earth,
                    so are we made of the same stuff as our houses.

                                                                                Rina Swentzell

In September, the blue grama straightens
before it bends its feathered knives to winter

and at last, once more, a downpour
pelts the mesa above the swift byways

of East Jemez Road and State Road 4,
deepens the vacant footholds of T’sankawi—

the village between two canyons
at the clump of sharp, round cacti

uncovering these scattered parts
of pots that harbor the half-millennial dye

of human touch, where fingertips
coiled and smoothed clay, applied

a jagged black pattern and then
went on to the next task.


The scientists walked this circuitous path,
too, in 1944, breathless with war and formulations,

while in sumo halls hundreds of Japanese school girls
spread paper squares the size of road maps

to make fire balloons. They held no knowledge
of the purpose of their work, nor the secret

designs that would make hibakusha of us all.
Starving, they ate konnyaku, devil’s tongue paste.


The element of earth was feeble in him
said Rabi of Oppenheimer, yet

soles to stone stepladders, in silence bent
by a canyon wren or sharp wind,

near the scent of someone’s den,
his mind took refuge here—

and Fermi, Feynman, Teller, others—
took refuge in its broken shapes

as I take refuge in the contours
of this poem, this place

where my bloodline was fixed,
for a time, no longer.


Did they survive, finding water’s path
down to new food sources, or starve—

those who lost the diamond-shaped village
of T’sankawi to vagaries of sky?

It’s uncertain. The curtain of rain lifts.
Water shadows the spotted faces

of petroglyphs down to the dark pits
gouged where the spirit emerges.

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