BY ANNE VALLEY-FOX
In the Year of Our Lord 1528, Cabeza de Vaca and three soldiers
among them Estevan the Moorish slave
were shipwrecked off the coast of Texas and saved
then enslaved by natives. Warring tribes traded the men
for seashells and flint. Spring followed spring: prickly pear in ruby
bloom broached escape from the Isle of Misfortune.
The stragglers plied their diaphanous bones with berries and bugs.
Privation annealed them; faith made their leader
luminous: his incantations scoured a path across
the inimical continent.
Thus they passed through linked afflictions from Mexico’s gulf
to the wastelands of northern Sonora—
until, in an eighth fugitive year, they stumbled on Spaniards
flashing swords and crosses.
Mother Tongue cushioned the air of Culiacán: the wayfarers
slept in buttery light, then wrapped in black velvet.
When finally they woke in their wracked, luxuriant bodies
Spain’s agents pumped them for information:
Tell us of metals in gleaming folds
and souls awaiting salvation.
The Viceroy appointed Estevan point man for Fray de Niza:
Go with God, claim for Spain the golden cities of Cíbola.
Sky deep as the sea. Possessed
of furs and a copper rattle, four wolfhounds
bounding, his ebony skin hissing resilience, the Moor
strode north towards riches and women.
O! the bolt from out of the blue
as Zuni arrows pierced his clamorous heart.
Anne Valley-Fox has published four collections of poetry, most recently How Shadows Are Bundled (University of New Mexico Press, 2009). She is coeditor, with Ann Lacy, of five books of documents culled from the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project (Sunstone Press). See AnneValleyFox.com.