Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Bells of San Juan


The bell of San Vicente, deep
rousing saints out of their sleep;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still buried
flaked and serried


The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought Jesus Christ and olive trees
and built a church of mud and stone
naïve to how the earth could groan

Father Serra consecrated
holy ground - the soldiers waited;
the curious Juaneños came
to see the flag that laid them claim

The bell of old San Juan intones
the sins for which we must atone;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still broken
splitting open

The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought their wine press and disease
and built a church of mud and stone
with walls that strained beneath the dome

converting chiefs to neophytes
by marshal law and sacred rites;
saved by grace but made to plow,
to worship with their back and brow

The bell of San Antonio
calls out as we come and go;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still ringing
struck to singing


The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought tallow vats and rosaries
and saw their church of mud and stone
come crashing down upon their own

where Magdalena, by the light
of the moon still walks at night
reciting her repentant prayer
since all the padres left her there

The blessed bell of San Rafael
we’ve hung it high and swung it well;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea


The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
in the garden
plead a pardon

yes the swallows are gone
and the bells of San Juan
know the story
tarnished glory

7 comments:

Julie said...

Hi, Joaquin. Your poem is, as always, completely awesome. I would love to walk the grounds, hear those amazing bells and see the swallows. A friend of mine visited the gardens, and I was so jealous. As your poem shows, there's so much more to learn.

The old structure sounds beautiful. The mud, the stone, and yes..."naïve to how the earth could groan" is a fantastic line.

The history in this poem is wonderful, as is the story. I love it all--the details, the flow, the rhythm. The repetition of the stanzas about the bells is excellent and echoes like the chiming itself.

How I love this stanza:

"The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still broken
splitting open."

Then you bring it back around to their tarnished glory in the end. Beautiful.

I love poems that take me to a place and tell me about the people who lived and breathed. You have taken me there.

Karen said...

Now I feel as if I've been there, too, walking those grounds, but I didn't know the history until reading your poem. I'm off to learn more when I leave here.

Meanwhile, let me say that the structure of this one feels a little more complex than some of your other metrical verse. I'm going to read it aloud to get the flow exactly as your lines dictate. I like what I read silently, but I want to hear it orally!

I am especially drawn to this stanza:

converting chiefs to neophytes
by marshal law and sacred rites;
saved by grace but made to plow,
to worship with their back and brow.

This really sums it for me - the imposition on these people - chiefs themselves, treated as savages, yoked by the "superiority" of the church. Quite an indictment and quite the story of all history.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I only knew about the swallows. Now I know "the rest of the story."

Karen said...

This is ridiculous. Here you are one of the best poets on the blogs and you get no comments.

Well, comments from two of the others ;-)

It really bothers me that you aren't better known and it bothers me that to be read, one must read and comment. I guess such is the nature of blogging. It apparently is more about the relationships than the quality. Grrr. I probably should be sending this in an email, as I'm cutting my own throat, but daggone it, you are one fine poet and everyone needs to know it!

Come to my house for the poetry bus when I drive on August 23. It will be right up your alley. Heck, I may even feature you prominently n the directions!

Okay. Nuff said.

Sarah Hina said...

I've read this many times now. And each time, when I get to the lines about Magdalena's lonely walk, I feel the hollowness of those bells acutely. You've made centuries of history, colonization, and loss present in these swinging, rhythmic, and stunning lines.

I especially love the different meanings--or characters, even--you've ascribed to each of the bells. For me, the bell of old San Juan became the bells of San Juan, as the poem progressed. The sound of sin, made manifest. Low, deep, and so resonant you can feel it in your bones. Coupling this with the swallows' flight was just brilliantly poignant and, literally, moving.

Masterful, in every way. You never, ever overreach; you just bring us right there.

(And I very much share Karen's desire to bring others here! :))

joaquin carvel said...

julie - if you ever get a chance, by all means, it'll be worth your time. even the ruins are beautiful, in the way only ruins can be. and so much history. thank you. i feel like i only scratched the surface, really, but if i took you there for a minute, i'm happy.

karen - yep, there's quite a story - like all great stories, i think, full of flawed intentions and overlooked heroes and tradgedy and triumph - our best and worst, i guess. thank you, and thanks for mentioning the structure - this one took a while - hope it worked. (i should probably read and comment more - wish i had more time - but thank you, sincerely, for your kind words. i'm saving the 26th on my dance card for a ride on the bus.:))

sarah - wow - thank you. the bells are all inscribed with those names - maybe i'm just a nerd but i'm facinated with that kind of thing - just makes it all come alive a little more. anyway, i'm glad to know they echoed here - that was my hope. (and after your generosity last week, both here and on murmurs, i tried to bring my "a" game - didn't want to make you look bad!)

Karen said...

Oops! Looks like I'm driving the bus on the 30th of August, not the 23rd. I'm just revving up too soon, I think.

Aniket said...

Its not just A-game its 'A++'game. :)

Its a bit darker from your usual wry humor, a bit more complex and a whole lot more wonderful.

I'm with Karen too. I stopped reading the blogs I didn't enjoy reading long time back. Which did cause a huge dip in the comments. But its still better than to write lies on someone's blog and force yourself to do something you don't like. Not everything is for everyone I guess. I mean, some are awesome poets, but if I don't get what they want to convey, then no point me banging my head in the wall every time I read something I don't understand. Though lately I've been not reading any (so please don't judge me yet :P). Just tied up a bit. I'll catch up soon.

Karen/Sarah - How about we have a Joaquin month to promote his work and drive some readers here? We can feature our fav. poems or something like that on our blogs. What say?