Saturday, December 3, 2011

Slices of Life

In the New Mexico desert, the ruins sprawled as they had for centuries, loose and broken like carelessly discarded baubles in the sand, ancient products from the sweat of skilled masons who had produced them a millennia before.  The people -- they were called the Anasazi -- had wandered off somewhere between the tenth and twelfth centuries to integrate with other Pueblo cultures of the southwest, but their ancestors remained here, buried in the red earth and ancient volcanic eruptions.  The Anasazi: the ancient ones.

They entered the canyon northeast of Pueblo Bonito but he was moving very quickly, making it difficult for her to keep up. He walked west, his eyes focused on something ahead, something she could not see.  The hot winds blew down the mountains in an inverted arc while the sun toasted them as brown as the forgotten race who lived there.  She followed him, chattering now and then, wanting attention but getting none.  She ran ahead, climbing the walls as he passed by, poking her head through windows and doorways, then jumping down in front of him.  She clowned from the stone tops and occasionally he'd smile indulgently but then continued on his pilgrimage, his face stern and opaque.  He trudged off towards Bonito, glancing around now and then to see that she was following.

They wandered through the multi-dwelling structures and could almost smell the dung-fueled fires whose smudges were captured in the petrified remains.  They examined the low-slung passage ways, the cooking hearths, kivas and sleeping stations, all in a remarkable state of preservation, efficiently designed by the strongly matrilineal society with an eye towards function.  He ran to a pile of rocks and scrambled to the top, searching the plains, his hand shading his eyes from the final blast of a dying sun, a gesture reminding her of those who had come before.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I can feel it."

"Feel what?"

"Like a. . .voice. . .like a message. . ."

"That's not funny," she said.  "Please come down."

She looked up and waited.  There was no laughter, no crooked grin.  The winds blew and still she waited for the insult, the irreverent epithet.  But he stood on this rock, face flushed, the muscled rib cage marking cadence with his breath, looking west towards the hills.  She was sorry now that they had come.  She felt as abandoned as the ruins surrounding them.  

Finally he slid down, his face red from the heat, and caked with clay.  He was tired now and they both smelled of sweat.  "Come on," he said and took her hand and they walked to the lee side of one of the dwellings.  They lay down in the shade, sharing a single can of Coke between them, listening to the voices of generations: ancestors, progenitors, the mothers of races.

From "Voices" Copyright (c) 2011 by Sue McGhee


  1. Lovely, Sue. I didn't want to stop reading.

  2. Thank you for stopping by, Cynthia. I'm honored.