you step onto a dock after nights and days afloat. This is a different land altogether. Trees, smells, even the birds are strange. The water is murky, sluggish. Foul even in a different way. Voices in harsh languages – shouts, questions, commands. Baffled, disgusted, curious, scornful. Faces you can read. Those are universal. But, keep your eyes down. Look at the scuffled boots, the odd little stars that spin and jangle on those stack-heeled ones, even a woman’s narrow-fitted shoe with buttons on the side. Move closer to the others you have traveled with. Familiar murmurs. Then, with a thump, the baggage is unloaded. Your lumpy sack is tossed in a pile, nearly sliding into a puddle. Someone grabs it. The tall, pale man who brought you all here is motioning you to come along. You climb into the slat-sided wagon, push to make room for the others. There are only a dozen of you. With a whip-crack, your strange-land journey begins…
That scene has played out for millennia. In this instance, it actually happened 150 years ago, on the river dock of Sacramento, California. It’s an old/new story, told in my newest book, Sierra Silk, through prose and poetry. These strangers, surrounded by other strangers, are fleeing random violence and death. They abandoned the homes and villages that birthed them, the lands they walked and farmed and loved for generations. They chose to face the unknown with optimism and courage. The outcome was uncertain. Mystery stood between triumph and tragedy. Still, they were determined to at least test their resolve.
Welcome to my blended world of historic detail and imagined, intuited lives set in the rugged, gold-flecked hills of the Sierra Nevada mountains where pick-axes still pried for wealth, where green-eyed mountain lions ghosted through the oaks and grizzlies lumbered over the scree.
Sierra Silk offers glimpses into the lives of the workers at the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony, as it was ambitiously called. They had escaped a raging war in their own homeland, to seek opportunity in a country which was just years past its own Civil War. Here, the words of aristocratic Jou and the fabled Samurai, Matsunosuke, make those events momentarily real:
“In my dreams, the clash and stench of war remain.
I wake startled to the smell of smoke. Useless visions
have no place in our traveling boxes. I am determined…”
this tree won’t hold your nest.
Come build here next year.”
“One last leaf remains,
turning, spinning east, then west.
Wind carries it off.”
“My old helmet serves
as bridge for one small spider.
See how it saves time.”
And interspersed throughout the book, my own reflections on the events:
“The last windfall apple
tumbles into shadow,
the weight of frost
to snap its stem.”
from “Windfall Weather”
“I am inheritor of foreign shadows,
baffled by the unfamiliar mapped on my wall,
webby cracks that didn’t appear on first look,
in a country suddenly my own…”