excerpt of “The Way of Florida”
By Russell Persson - Sep 20, 2017
The hills are bigger than the hills, bended down from out of where they come, stacked and sided and running down from the whiter sky who moves above them evenly and mutely in a steady unwatching whiteness tumbled across that firmament through which it descends in a good slope from up in those peaks descended down in foothills a continuous drop at an angle to the foothills who describe that joining of the hill and of the valley floor like an ankle to the leg fell down from clouds and tapered into the foot. It is here the men and women set rested and splayed from the mouth of the river at the sea and clouded up the edges of the river arranged some by family some by sets of women who dug roots and washed them in the river some by men who fought and the men and boys who crowded near to shout in upon it here they all banded.
The crowd of them are returning along the route they arrived on, filing back along the river valley and at a pace of one who returns and knows what comes ahead. In time the men who remain there alone on the bank of the river are only Cabeza de Vaca and Castillo and Estevanico and Dorantes and it is the Indians who return. The four men do not know why the Indians will not join them for the journey inland and upriver. Could they see only desolation ahead or were there known threats? Had they gone far enough from where they’d always been? It is in the afternoon. The river has a light sound and the sun is on them at an angle and unbroken by any cloud.
* * *
The four men walk upriver among a thicket who in a passive way opposes them. They move unaccompanied save by each other. The ground they go on scrubbish and rocked, the bellies of their feet worn hard and cured like something taken from the sea and dried in the sun. Come up above and see the four men alone walking haggard and steady and silent to the next and of a pace who mentions no rush and also no lag into the day when the sun crosses to dusk. This is the last time the four will travel alone, unaccompanied, and they move ahead in silence and with an unsaid purpose.
* * *
Travelling inland and upriver they send Estevanico into the open unaccounted space between the three of them and the most of the others. In this way it is Estevanico who transacts with an exchange of common gestures and acquired sounds who stand for things or ways, Estevanico among the Indians and the three Spaniards removed in counsel away from the negotiates. The three shaded and set off from the trading and the mapping and them who ask to have their sickness brought away and them who have one enormous limb or skinned leg to solve.
* * *
In day a man is brought to the four and inside him is an arrowhead who came in by the front of his shoulder and passed down towards his heart and he lived in only great pain. He is brought to Cabeza de Vaca and Cabeza de Vaca puts his hands upon the Indian. He can push on the Indian and he can hear with his fingers where the arrowhead remains and it is stiff gone wedded into something rigid and meant. With a knife Cabeza de Vaca cuts into him and he is stern but his eye wanders up into the canopy and the knife goes in to reach to where. The point of the knife hits the arrowhead and clicks off to the side and the Indian with his head gives a twitch as if there is no way to be unmoved by this passage into him and the blade is bladed in to better ken the edges of the intrude and it is full lodged at that. It could be the Lord God of a hand in this. It is a delicate plan to be about. Into the Indian the knifehead goes edging and finds his ail the bone of this arrowhead set tight against his gristle who holds him fast and to pay him with so many edgings of the blade dug in to so pry his lodge and click it up and click up and out from in him and it is tweezed out with two knives. When the arrowhead is out they all huddle and ask to see and have the arrowhead and they take it and display it up to them as if the sun had to do with it. The Indian is bleeding from this and it runs down the front of him in small gouts so Cabeza de Vaca takes a stitch into the skin with the blade edge and with a fiber to pass it through into the skin and takes another stitch in him to solve the bleeding. Upon this Cabeza de Vaca lays what was scraped of some hide who is by and the tallow it shod is laid on waxish on the wound. So until the morning when the stitch and other stitch is pulled out and the Indian puts his arm above him and tells them all of the ruined tells he had from all the pain he spent and could they all wait to settle in for this his own renewal and he comes into the day without the olden gripes he had and he is then or so among the well. And then his scar is nothing more than a palm line from then on.
* * *
They go bended broken to the sierra flattening. Met there by a people from away who come to witness the four healers and to bestow what they have. They bring piñon nuts from away and these they bestow.
To the witness it is noted the four ask to go to where the sun sets. The witness sees the mood and quiet huddle of the people from away who say that from here to where the sun sets it is a blank land and the nearest people more than far.
To the witness it is seen the four men in anger and demanding and it is seen then the three women of the people from away begin to walk in the direction where the sun sets and they are sent from there as scouts to learn what comes ahead.
* * *
The women who leave to scout come to a fate of their own. Ahead in foothill canyons and washes, cuts who went yellow and red if there had been water run through them. Across the hardened talc of dry creeks who had been always dry for what they knew of them. Up to a rise in gradual lift the women climb into cooler nights among the scrub and brittle trees no taller than the women at all and in night they keep to each other closely for the heat each other has.
On a night when there was little moon the women who were close they all put at least an eye up to the vault above them and the holes in the fabric. And they all see the sudden tear in that fabric pass from one end so across to reach the line where the mountains drew their own shadow against the blackness and one of the women hides her eyes for what she believes is upcoming when a thing is torn above you and one of the women comes undone by the sight of it and does not allow them to rest but to walk instead some yards ahead for the omen who lives in that moment they were in. And as it is told the woman who did not hide her eyes and did not come undone is the remaining woman and she is the youngest of them and it is known that when she was born she was given a thing to live by and it is unsure if it was a gift or if it was not a gift how she could know the language in full of another people from one day in sit with them and it was her who put a basket together to catch birds in and it seemed there was an older man who lived inside of her and so she was sent off to walk in peril no few times and returned again as if there was no peril she brought herself through it is told this woman did not hide or come undone but is able instead to note the shift in color of this event from the color of the sun in brief and then the moon and then a gem green is the light who lights up the bench of where they are.
* * *
It is told the youngest of the scouts was often sent on errands who would have kept any man among them down and it was always she who returned well and it was not told if she was sent out for the habit of hers to be well and return or if there was some other purpose. In among her people when she as a scout returned she was half welcome and none of them are of a skill to make a secret of their intention it is all worn on the outside of them.
* * *
Five days later the scouts return. The three women say it is a passable route up along the foothills inland with its own brand of what the days would fold to them but it is a route without a people within it. Not another set of whom for days. It isn’t known how far ahead it is for them to come upon some other.
On the word of them they sleep to decide when the nexted day became. What dream could visit lend a hand in this decode? Fitless rest has all of the four men that night. Night visions of any use it was none. Some rambling of another time all joined up with the sea and when rafts held them to the sea it was when a fresh water gourd was golden and them in drift the sea a risen field with its own fated mood it was all unsure.