Buckeye Canyon, San Bruno Mountain

Bare buckeye branches, green-gray fruit

suspended at the tips of each blade of branch.

Medusa would have been impressed,

would have envied this horrific beauty,

this tangle of bones here in Buckeye Canyon.

She might have peeled its fruit in strips

to stun fish with its poison,

just like the dead tribe did for 5,000 years

who lived in this canyon,

sheltered in the watershed of this mountain

near Bayshore Freeway.

This tribe, whose name I know but cannot pronounce,

kept 20 families in the simple windless sunshine

near their white-specked midden

without fear of grizzly or cougar.

They traded in tule boats for granite, obsidian —

the hard currency of tool and food.

They did war on occasion,

training their quickest men to run ahead,

taught them to dodge arrows, to see them coming

as fast as hummingbirds, to hear their feathers

sing by ears and eyes,

like the song David sang of otter in the bay —

transcribed by Frenchmen 250 years ago

who knew the value of a good tune, catchy lyrics,

who didn’t know their scarlet fever, measles, pox

would ravage this tribe like wildfire, burn

children to red ash, white bones.

Only these naked buckeyes remain, stinging the air

with memory

of a creek ravine running with salmon,

a bay splashing with otter,

a tidal marsh played like a harp

by winds that still blow

among what remains, what endures.


by Paul Totah



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