The Swallows of La Ciénega

For Elizabeth

La Ciénega slept on a muted afternoon
At old Las Golodrinas, when I spied a nest
Of swallows beneath the age-worn latias, hewn
By a hand that is gone with the days that were blessed;

And I promised to knit for you a pair of gloves
From the cotton that falls from the cottonwood trees
Like the snows of antaño, and send them with doves
Through your heart’s open window on late summer’s breeze;

And to make for you the finest purse from the skin
Of the coy trout that feed on the soft floating seeds
That fall on the river, to put my sonnets in
With a Rosary of the bluest turquoise beads;

And to go up the ancient ladder very high,
Atop el torreon, to catch a roving cloud
And gently wrap it in an azure sheet of sky
To place beneath your feet as proof of love avowed;

And from the golden light of the adobe’s straw
To fashion for your head a magnificent crown
Surmounted with crystals I saved from winter’s thaw,
And sew, from veils of desert rain, your satin gown.

But when the swallows of La Ciénega return,
And the acequias are full with summer’s stream,
And the still marshes grow dense with cattail and fern,
You shall wake me, from this and every idle dream.

© Joseph Charles MacKenzie

Glossary of New Mexican Terms

ciénega : a spring and associated marsh. In this case, the name of a 17th-century Spanish hamlet containing such a feature which feeds the Santa Fe River.

Las Golondrinas (El Rancho de las Golondrinas) : The Ranch of the Swallows, a historic rancho and now a living history museum, is located on what was once the Camino Real, the Royal Road that extended from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The ranch provided goods for trade when the caravans would stop on their journey coming from or going to Santa Fe. It was a paraje, an official rest stop for travelers, as mentioned by the great colonial military leader and governor, Don Juan Bautista de Anza, when he stopped here with his expeditionary force in 1780.

latias : Lateral wooden slats that form part of the ceiling of a traditional New Mexican building.

antaño : Yesteryear.

torreon : A look-out tower made of adobe used to guard a settlement or watch for the arrival of wagon trains coming up the Camino Real.

acequias : Man-made irrigation ditches for farming.

adobe : A building material made up of earth and straw and other organic matter. In New Mexico, the straw under certain lighting conditions can give an adobe wall a golden radiance when seen from a distance.

About the Author:

Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet, a "sonetero" from New Mexico where his family has been for over 400 years. He is First Place winner of the Scottish International Poetry Competition (Long Poem Section) and a Pushcart Prize nominee. His verses have appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), US News and World Report, Google News, and many other outlets. He writes exclusively for Trinacria (New York) and the Society of Classical Poets (New York).

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