September in Albuquerque, Fifteen Hundred and Forty

7:04 PM

by Rudolfo Carrillo


If you really wanna know, and in case you did not happen upon my version of the Library of Babel as it appeared this past July, I have been mournfully concerned with the mythos (not so much the historiography) of the conquest of the western lands by the Spanish.

Well, all that sixteenth century tragedy and intrigue led me to accounts of Coronado's fabled expedition into New Mexico. Especially unsettling were the parts of the story where el Jefe's handyman, Alvarado, and his men, discover the Rio Grande and the pueblo of Tiguex. That all happened, by the way, during the first week of September 1540.

So, yeah I've been reading a lot. The usual stuff,
Diaz, Casteneda, Horgan. My public school teachers were crazy about the history of this state and this town, even if they were mostly communists. The courses I took in the history and American studies department at UNM did me some good too. Of course I do my best to remember the stories my father and grandfather told me. All of that is bound to influence what follows.

It has got a derivative quality to it and I hope that is okay with you. I will tell you though, unabashed, that I am sure I have a decent idea about what happened back then, regardless; and can therefore write about it with some authority or whatever the hell you wanna call it.

Anyway, this is what I got so far, out of that experience, after I have done some reckoning and filtering and put my own spin and ideas about the world on top of it all.

The season wanes.

After you are here for a while, you may start to discern a subtle structure. A pattern which repeats itself interminably and is governed by cycles that are centuries long and that is pretty much just like what we are all wafting through today and likely for the next few weeks; the cottonwood trees buzzing with cicadas, rain-rich clouds billowing up from the nothingness of the surrounding desert and then disappearing again, heat rising in waves from the clay and el rio coursing endlessly and mystically southward. As September begins, the nights will grow noticeably cooler.

Four hundred and seventy one waning summers ago, some of Coronado's men - you know
the guy they named the mall after - wandered into the province of Tiguex and stood upon a small river's edge. It was the year of their lord fifteen hundred and forty. At the beginning of the ninth month of that year.

The place those men and beasts came to, our home now, was already inhabited; was vibrant and full of life, human and otherwise. The people that lived there had a name for the flowing water that sustained them. They called it
P'osoge.

A complex tapestry of cornfields and earthen villages had been previously observed and reported upon by the
Tlaxcalan scouts under the command of Captain Hernando de Alvarado. Alvarado, who someday would have a hotel named after him, had been sent, with a small contingent of men and horses, to explore the land to the east of Zuni.

Zuni had turned out to be a bust for the invaders. For one thing it wasn't made out of gold or anything remotely like that. Old Coronado himself had been wounded during the siege of the main town,
Hawikuh. The natives continued to harbor resentment, though they had been bestowed with the finest in glass beads and feathers forcibly acquired from Aztec headdresses that the Tlaxcalans had brought along, ostensibly to trade for psychoactive fungi, the ingestion of which was an important part of their battle ritual.

The vast desert that Alvarado's contingent crossed to get to the river was no fun either. Though they supposedly made some allies along the way, they were for the most part still regarded as an ancient and evil presence come back to claim the earth and its people with a fury and vengeance foretold by years of songs and ritual performance.
On a plateau two days' ride from the river, they had encountered a lofty and impenetrable fortress and were warned away with deadly cascades of boulders and arrows fashioned from the light of the sun.

And so the men marched, mostly hungry and disenchanted but still quite capable of sniffing out gold and silver. A few of them probably ran wildly in their near delirious and most likely thwarted condition - toward the sun-obscuring cottonwood forest with beautiful brown water winding through its center. Later, their thirst for water slackened, some of them named the river after
Jesus' mom, as was their custom.

As previously noted, their coming had been predicted. The leaders of the villages along the river came forward in new white cotton mantles and their warriors cast flower petals and corn meal before the advancing Spanish boots and hooves, but only after the women, children, stores of grain and flocks of turkeys had been secured and hidden away.

The summer continued to decline and the men from the south began to raise great wooden crosses here and there, threatening with sharp steel those who would not bow down before either implement. As the hummingbirds themselves fled southward to heaven and the harvest began, more tall and pale humans appeared, their faces covered in coarse hair, their dreams
shaped by eight hundred years of war and conflict. Their dogs were large and fierce. Two of the metal-clad soldiers brought women with them. They obviously intended to stay.

And though they told the people of the valley they could perform great feats of magic, knew how, for instance, to bring water to very distant fields,
they could also kill from a distance with smoke and thunder; they did not understand the real depth of that same water which flowed all around them, preferring it would seem by year's end, to wade customarily and comfortably, in blood.

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