The San Xavier Del Bac mission is in trouble. Those of you who have read my first book, Perpetual Care, will recognize that name as the title of one of my poems. The centuries-old building, known as the "white dove of the desert," is a victim of time and bad maintenance. Misguided restoration efforts harmed the structure more than they helped, and a foundation was formed to make sure that any more restoration was done correctly.
I visited the mission many, many years ago in Tucson, Arizona, when the new work was just getting started, and I was stricken by the clash between what had been resurrected and what was still crumbling. It was a lesson in the transiency of things, and the importance of trying to preserve what can all to easily be lost. I'm so sad to hear that the grant for completion of the restoration has been revoked (and I wonder where all that money went to). But I hope that the work will continue, one piece at a time. If you'd like to visit the mission, check their website for more information.
San Xavier Del Bac
Incense settles into plaster walls,
stains oak pews black.
Heat from the hundred candles,
each a hundred sins, stains my cheeks.
The saints, their eyes are holes,
tunnels to a flaking history.
My heart tries to burn
a white dove into the desert,
a place where water appears,
but I am smothered by this weight,
the dress of blue stone.
People with skin of oak
break the air into waves of dust,
waiting carefully for their chance
to stroke my wax brow,
pin their words to my chest.
Each prays for flight, for flood.
Their feet make no noise as they move.