Acoma

Drowsing in the shade
the old woman waits for the tourists,
pots arrayed on a rickety wooden table.
The largest is about a foot high,
the smallest three inches,
creamy, with fine black lines
drawn freehand with computer-like accuracy,
parallel lines, dense checkerboards,
lightning strikes
that snake around the curved belly of the pot,
reaching, reaching into the past.

One man sits disdainfully ignoring us
as we examine a great white pot
carved in patterns,
a polychrome design around the mouth
like nothing we have seen
in museums or shops in Santa Fe.
The price is far beyond us, but worth it,
uniquely created, here, up in the sky.

A pool of brownish water,
20 feet long, forms a triangle
between these low houses.
It is so cool
against the blinding sun
flashing off all the white walls
and the desert visible in all directions.

The pueblo still lives in this muted way
pottery making and selling to daily tourists
fried bread and small pies
offered at every turn
icy water from a cooler in the shade
for the overheated visitors.

We come back to earth,
drive across the desert
looking back at the small dense houses
that fill the flat top of this great rock,
where they speak Tewa ,
fifty miles from Albuquerque.

A white ladder of rough-cut wood
extends above the roof
for the convenience of the spirits
It leads to the roof of a dwelling
marking the entrance to the kiva
forbidden to women
a place for menís secrets,
tribal knowledge.

The mission church rises on the rim
outlined against the sky.
The small cemetery, dirt carried on the
backs of women, up that stairway,
logs for the ceiling,
brought from the mountains somehow,
dragged up here somehow.
The retablo saints splash color
on the white walls.

We came up by the modern road
but we are shown the other way down
should we choose to use it later,
the steps cut in the rock,
handholds, footholds
precarious down the precipitous side.
the sharp cliffs forming the boundary
of this flat small level space
of dwellings.

Twelve families live here now.
Children arrive on the small school van,
run to their homes.
No one falls off the edge,
that abrupt ending of pueblo street
and beginning of empty air dropping
to the desert.

The pueblo lives in this muted way,
pottery making and selling to daily tourists,
fry bread and small pies
offered at every turn,
icy water from a cooler in the shade
for the overheated visitors.

Above the roof of a dwelling
a white ladder of rough-cut wood
marks the entrance to the kiva,
forbidden to women.
It is a place for menís secrets,
for guarding the tribal knowledge
that makes it possible to live here
on this small circumscribed mesa
forever.


Lari Smith