Quivira

By Ronald Johnson 1935–1998 Ronald Johnson
I

                 Also reputed to be golden, Quivira:


Cibola, unknown
to Coronado, meant ‘buffalo’

to the Indians, but onward, to El Dorado, ‘The Gilded One’,


a country where
boats were incrusted with gold, where
golden bells hung from trees


(tho the food there,

                            said to be served on gold,



was buffalo).



  ‘We took the hump from both sides of the hump ribs, of all the carcasses.  In taking out the hump we inserted the knife at the coupling of the loin, cutting forward down the lower side, as far forward as the perpendicular ribs ran; then, starting at the loin again, would cut down the upper side, thus taking out a strip from a full-grown animal about three feet long.  Near the front of the hump ribs it would be ten or twelve inches wide & four or five inches thick.  When first taken out it was hung up for a couple of days with the big end down.  It became shrunken, tender & brittle, with no taint.  The front end had a streak of lean alternating with fat & when fried in tallow, made a feast for the gods’.


                 The prairie soil was ‘black & fat’ &,

                 according to Castaneda, the marrow of the land.

On that soil, later to be stripped
for prairie sod-houses,

wild turkeys
flocked among the persimmons

their flesh succulent from golden sand plums,
bitter

with china-berries.
The coyotes,

their eyes aglow on the dark horizon, barked at a moon
above the lowing

of buffalo, heard twenty miles
away.

And cottonwood trees, from whose buds
the Indians

made clear yellow, scattered their drift in spring
filling the gullies.



                        The Quivirans
                        were to tell Coranado

                        ‘the things
                        where you are now

                        are of great importance’.




II

As Coronado turned to retrace his steps,
the Smoky Hills were visible north across a stream
enveloped in an atmospheric haze
in which the hills
became distant, impossible mountains—

‘where you are now’

the Indians had said, ‘of great

importance’.


                  The country they traveled over
                  was so level,
                  if one looked at the buffalo

                  the sky could be seen between their legs,

                  so that at a distance they appeared
                  to be smooth-trunked pines whose tops jointed—

                  & if there was
                  one bull, it seemed four
                  pines.

                  The country was round, as if
                  a man should imagine himself in a bowl, & could see sky
                  at its edge

                  an arrow’s shot away.

                  And if any man
                  were to lie down on his back, he lost

                  sight
                  of the ground.


Did Coronado see also in that late summer storm,
before he turned south,
an horizon of dark funnels tapering
toward the earth, coming with the thunderous sound of a buffalo herd
out of the plains—a calm & sulphurous air
in which clouds were drawn like lightning toward the funnels—
scattering his men
to hide among grassy hollows?


A tornado against the sky
like buffalo

who were beared as
goats,

with the hump of a camel, the mane
of a lion

& who carried
their tails erect as they ran,

like any European
scorpion.

O Coronado, all country
is round to

those who lose sight of the
ground.

           Canceas, Cansez, Kansies, Konza: the Indian word

           meaning smoky,

                                   from an atmospheric condition

           in the fall of the year, called

           Indian Summer:

smoke in the air,

in Quivira.

Ronald Johnson, “Quivira” from A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees. Copyright © 1964 by Ronald Johnson.  Reprinted by permission of Nantahala Foundation, J. Williams.

Source: A Line of Poetry A Row of Trees (The Jargon Society, 1964)

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Poet Ronald Johnson 1935–1998

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 Ronald  Johnson

Biography

Ronald Johnson was a Kansas native who lived most of his adult life in San Francisco. He told Contemporary Authors: "I have spent the last twenty years writing a long poem titled ARK, which was completed in 1991. The work consists of three books, each of thirty-three sections: titled The Foundations, The Spires, and The Ramparts. Rather than being based on literary sources (as the early The Book of the Green Man was based on . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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