Stone Upon Stone, Soul Upon Soul
by Ken Hartke
For good or for ill, they left their mark.
Rich in their vow of poverty;
at least by local standards.
They had their cigars and their chocolate.
They had their music and their books.
They had their Faith.
They had untold riches
in willing backs and upturned faces.
Stone on stone. Wooden crosses.
Beams and candles. Silver chalice.
True, the graveyard was filling up
but there was God’s work to be done.
They were here on a mission;
called by the Assisian of long ago.
Soul upon soul. Tally and count.
Blessed waters all poured out.
Carry your burden. Stone upon stone.
Eyes to heaven. Soul upon soul.
Recall your lessons. No room for doubt.
Strange faces watch from the shadows.
The “Holy Office” keeps the peace
in these lands west of the Pecos,
in this province of sand and salt.
Scores are settled by Godly force.
See the women tending the graveyards?
Their faces looked away. The cost too high.
The flesh was less willing, the spirit, weak.
Some days the raiders came.
Voices raised—a stone thrown in anger.
An arrow. Brother, the fields are on fire!
The burden weighs on fewer willing backs.
Brother, tell us again about Heaven.
Over the pass, it was a long slow walk.
First one mission and then another
left crumbling in the sun.
Stone upon stone. Soul upon soul.
A vow of poverty is for living,
not dying in the hot sand and salt.
So brothers, pick up the pace!
There will be other missions, but not here.
PHOTO: Abo ruins at sunset, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico. Photo by Sumiko Photo.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The Salt Missions, three Franciscan Missions, were established between 1622 and 1635 among the Pueblo people in the traditional salt producing area of central New Mexico. The missions—Quarai, Gran Quivera, and San Gregorio de Abó (and the entire region)—were largely abandoned by 1670 as the friars and the surviving Indian population sought refuge in the Rio Grande Valley. The pressure from nomadic tribes, the Spanish encomienda system, drought, and growing conflicts within the mission population proved to be too much. The ruined missions, comprising the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument (near Mountainair, New Mexico) stand as stark reminders of the earliest Spanish colonizing efforts before the successful Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
PHOTO: Gran Quivira Pueblo, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, Near Mountainair, New Mexico. Photo by Rinus Baak.
MAP: Location in New Mexico of the Salt Missions (Salinas Missions).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Hartke is a writer and photographer from the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but was originally planted and nourished in the Midwest’s big river valleys. Always a writer, his writing was mainly work-focused until he landed in New Mexico in 2013 seeking a new second act. The state has been very welcoming. His New Mexico photography now inspires much of his writing — and sometimes the other way around. The great backcountry continually offers itself as a subject. He has contributed work for the Late Orphan Project’s anthology, These Winter Months (The Backpack Press), Silver Birch Press, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He keeps an active web presence on El Malpais.