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
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