Rafael Garcia Meets the Devil

Published in anthology here:  6-9-2011

The Spanish horse patrol was on route to Bodega on the Pacific. Rumors, then reports, had come to the fort beside St. Rafael near San Francisco Bay that other Europeans had been seen in the headlands around the mountain called Tamalpais.

The five leather-coated soldiers, their priest companion and the native servant stopped awhile to stretch their legs and barter food at a poor village.  The missionary, mildly drunk, was still able to talk with the village elder in Bay area pidgin.  The man had apparently seen nothing.

Private Rodrigo played with the kids.  They got him into line with them in the field and passed a rawhide ball from one to the next, then faster, then two lines formed and raced to see who was fastest.  They laughed; he laughed; no one used words, but cheered and yelled and slapped each other’s back.

It turned into tag and racing through the woods.  The Miwok kids were quick as deer and knew the paths, but Rodrigo’s heart made up the gap. Continue reading

A Hint of Wind

Published here:  Microstory-a Week, 11-30-2011

The young priest cut the outboard engine half a mile from Horseshoe Bay off the Marin Headlands. He had no fishing pole, no crab pots.  He spent most Mondays off from his stagnant ministry in this rowboat.

He tipped the engine up and back, put the oars in their locks, let the blades hang in the water.  He waited, bow pointed across open water toward old San Francisco.  Outside the mouth of the Bay, the barren Farallons called and the immense Pacific offered to take him.  The boat drifted dully.

He closed his eyes.  His seminary enthusiasm had met polite tolerance.  He just couldn’t engage these natives with roots as old as the Bible.  Power-Points were useless.

Small waves licked the side of the boat; the hungrier ones slapped it. Continue reading

Drum School

ezine Blog here in three installments:  firstsecondthird, 2011

The drum gives me Now; and its silence Then.

Keep the beat and my soul will mend.

My father was a smith. We lived in tiny Dodona in a house behind the forge. We lived with the beat of hammer and anvil, and the longer pulse of heating and cooling. Poor, we embraced the rhythms of starving awhile until we were no longer as hungry, of collapsing exhausted until we were merely tired. My mother foraged meals from thin air and I worked at the fire from a tender age.

Father made a living selling pins, hasps and latches for a few lepta each. He taught me how to repair broken tools. Craning past his massive arm, I watched him steadily beat the ripple pattern of circles on a copper sheet until it became a shapely pot, worthy of Hephaestus, whose hammer icon hung in the forge.

His master was a Guild smith, who died before father could be Journeyed. Father’s craft sprang from glimpses of techniques he was never taught, leveraged into what he needed to know. Continue reading

Hands and Knees

first published as podcast:   Nov. 12, 2011

The priest woke up knowing how they should dig the channel to the garden. Under his tireless direction, dream natives from both sides of San Francisco Bay had already appeared to contour the site and bring water to the precious vegetables near their new healing Mission, recently christened San Rafael. He could taste the earth and smell the new onions, peas, garlic, beets, carrots, corn and greens.

Father Corazo threw back the cowhide and pushed himself to calloused knees on the compacted dirt of his room.

He recited the morning prayer of thanks to the Father.  This green, fertile land of fog was so different from the heat and dust of Baja. God’s humor had replaced the harsh sun of treeless Loreto, in Baja California, with these towering redwoods that obscured the sun all day. Continue reading

Drake’s Cook

Oak of the Miwok near Bodega

Published here

Eagle must have made the Golden Hind, with its massive wings stretched across bones of wood, its hold full of strange smells, clothes and implements. The white men, that sailed it in from the sunset, must have come straight from Coyote. Odd, agreed the old Miwok men in the sweathouse of the village nearest the beach, and surprising, that the passengers in Eagle’s basket with wings seemed to have forgotten so much about life, unacquainted with the simplest things, like atole, black eggs and pinole.

The seamen brought gifts, but demanded food and supplies of water in great volume in a rude way. They impatiently sucked their teeth or rattled beads or copper pieces, as if to say: “Right now!” Their speech reminded the People of duck quack and squirrel chatter and many shouted in a loud, coarse way. The strangers that were sick and losing teeth, hair and body fluids were nurtured in the village.

One day, the People noticed that these visitors weren’t mingling or courting the single women. They weren’t staying! During a daylong sweathouse meeting, it was decided to hold a feast and offer a dance directly to the aloof Admiral Drake, as though to Coyote and Eagle. This might evoke pity for the People’s loneliness. Single women could do a flirtatious dance and entice at least some visitors to stay.

Young men set up the fire, with heaps of extra firewood. Boys and girls spread mats over the rocky path all the way from the village to the feast area between the boulders. The women cooked for hours and used many of the village’s reserves to make this feast spectacular. Continue reading

Tempeche, b. 1799 d. 1824

photo: outlaw chapbook c/o bannock street books

published here

Tempeche willed one of the bullets into his own skull. The fusillade threw his corpse backwards, still tied to the iron ring.

Monterey’s angry court officials were not to be swayed, so he had sung them quiet forgiveness. He chanted thankfulness to the four directions, to the earth, to the sky. While they convicted him of murder, he recalled the lush taste of raw salmon, the heart-pounding scramble ahead of a grizzly, the brief eternity of taking a woman.

Fickle Coyote was elsewhere, though he’d inspired Tempeche’s other escapes. Tempeche knew that even the chance to slash the Corporal’s throat while in custody was just a final trick, not a path of escape. Caught immediately. Execution guaranteed.

*** Continue reading

Runway

stormcoming c/o petergreenberg.com

Published here

We were in starry sky stretching to glimpse the lights of San Francisco past our seat-mates one minute and the next we were surrounded by dark fog bouncing and knocking shoulders, certain we would collide with Mt. Diablo or another plane. My ears were ringing like Christmas at the cathedral. Our jet shook and dipped and maybe dropped through the fog and then, Bam! we felt a huge hand-like slap on our plane. We startled and were screaming and trying to inventory the engines while the Captain’s voice apologized for turbulence. We dropped out of the fog into dark night with bright lights and smashed onto the concrete runway like a carton of eggs.

Rattled, hurried, subdued, we were herded to the jump chute exits by a terse, pale steward, who was ignoring a forcefully cheerful forty-something stewardess whispering behind her teeth like a ventriloquist: “Is it on fire?” They had us hop outward feet first, while crossing our arms on our chests. A woman seemed to snare her feet on the inflated ramp and bounced face forward onto the pavement where she lay still. Two uniformed men with Red Cross insignias on their sleeves bent over her while the police gathered the rest of us into an old yellow bus out of the drizzle that had already penetrated my light jacket. The bus said ‘St. Francis Academy’ on it. Continue reading

High Water

pubbed here

Willy was born delighted in the middle of a rainstorm that threatened to flood the root cellar where they were hiding from the lightning. She had wide-open blue eyes. Her tiny expressive face soundlessly oohed and aahed and grimaced and startled with each feeling from the very beginning and, soon, she had a coo of contentment that nurtured her mother and then a three-tone song of a laugh that always made her siblings smile. Thunderstorms and floods threatened them so often but Willy’s birth let Mama engage with them easier from then on.
By age two, she had become the sixth oldest for the second time when her mama got sick in child birth and by four she was fifth oldest again when she stopped seeing Ezreel, who used to feed the pigs. She knew every inch of the farmyard and garden, had her own names for every chicken, pig, cow and horse on the place and could boil water on the stove, if mama was there. Continue reading

Bull Headed

If I squinted, the farm looked pretty much the same as it had when I left, 9 years ago, blinking back tears. The pond had shrunk; the bluegrass had grown longer and gone to seed.  The fence lay halfway down.

Frost bleached the roof, yet no smoke rose from the chimney of our farmhouse on the knoll.  The front field that the goats used to clear was now overgrown with larkspur, ragwort and blackberry.  No sign of livestock, chicken or ducks.  The horse barn was leaning at an odd angle, as though reeling from a strong wind.  Between the cow barn and the house, the dust seemed as untracked as the snow-powdered mountainsides of the Rockies I had just seen day before yesterday from the train.

I walked over to the corner of the cow barn.  The tall splints Pa and I had fashioned were still in place, still straight.

I remembered the young black bull, Napoleon, no higher than Pa’s shoulder, in a sudden burst charging at the big Hereford bull that was temporarily sharing his pen.  When the other bull leapt out of the way, Napoleon’s amazing forehead had cracked the eight-inch square post that formed the corner of the barn up to the hayloft; hence the splint.

Continue reading

Dead Battery

pubbed here

He reached the parking lot with just enough time to punch in; to beat the clock.  His veteran ears had been listening to radio news about the Sarajevo trials.  The unpronounceable had committed the unimaginable against the unfamiliar.  “Here we go again,” he said.

“There have been countless genocides,” the newscaster said.  “The Hugenots, Beziers and Albigensians.  Tenochitlan.  Pequots.  Auschwitz and the Sicherheitsdienst.”

He reached for the off switch.  Work time.  “Viet Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, My Lai.”  The announcer pronounced them perfectly.  These names went with his memories of friends:  ‘Frank,’ ‘Stace,’ ‘Tom,’ ‘Ryan.’

His hand dropped to the car seat.      “Lubyanka and Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky,” she said.  “Chmielnitzki.  Vijayanagara.  Khmer Rouge.  Khmer Noir.  Rwandi-Burundi.  Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith.  Kampuchea.  Quiripi-Unquachog.  Hissane Habre.”  He was pinned down.

Millions rolled into a hundred million.

The announcer explained:  “This countdown during Atrocity Awareness Week uses the Voice of America Pronunciation Guide,” she said.  The irony sparked against the fragment in his heart.

“The names are not so hard.  Tianahmen Square.  Deng Xiaoping.  Try repeating after me,” she said.

“DUH-ng SH-how PEENG.”

“Duhng show peeng,” he said.

“OH-marr HAS-san AL BAS-hir,” he said, after her.

“AWN SAN soo CHEE.”  Way too easy.

“RAHT-koh MLAHD-ihch,” they said.

“RAH-doh-van KAHR-ah-jeech.”  She had to break for a commercial.  He picked up where she left off.

“Tan Son Nhut.  Binh Long.  Quang Nai.  Hue Phu Bai.  An Phu.  Loc Minh. Nui Ba Den.  Bu Prang.  Dak Dahm. Quang Tri.”  Place names from his personal collection.

Soon, she was back,  “Trien Phong.  Dien Phuk.  Song Be.  Khe Sanh.  Cu Chi.”  And on.

They hadn’t completed the list when the battery, too, died.

He had to look for his hands, because he felt transparent.  Powerless.

Had it taken him fifty years to see that everyone was in on it, from their DNA on up?  A bus full of his accomplices rumbled by.  Though his boots were bloody and his eyes were scarred with horror, they each had kept a hand on his back:  Andy, Ellen, Ray, Pat.  Citizen perpetrators with less exotic names.  Everyone could turn on anyone.

In the silence of his car, he tried to make sense of that single syllable:  ‘Work.’