On the Arrival of Portola in 1769

Kim’s wonderful discussion on listening got me thinking about an older poem of mine, “On the Arrival of Portola in 1769,” so I will post it for her Open Link Night: We are listening on the dVerse Poets site. It was part of a group of poems I wrote when living in a place called Paradise Canyon on the Santa Ynez river. I included it in The Gunslinger in Technicolor, my 2020 collection of poems on Americana, both urban and natural. It was first published in 2018 in California Quarterly along with another poem from that group, “After Rexroth.”


Before anyone here had even dreamed

of a rifle,

knobby hands jammed antler

into chert, shaping edges and points.

Before anyone here had dreamed 

of canvas or frame, 

thumbs grubbed grease and powdered

ochre into flaming suns

and cagey lizards on cave walls.

Before anyone here had dreamed

of the end,

the People dreamed of nine blue streams

falling from the sky

filling the world with piñon,

swordfish, pelican, and bear.

And when the people weren’t dreaming,

they could lift their heads,

close their eyes,

and hear everything.


19 thoughts on “On the Arrival of Portola in 1769

  1. Thanks for linking up today, Jedediah! I so enjoyed your poem and its reflection on our ancestors and the way humans developed. I especially love the lines:
    ‘Before anyone here had dreamed
    of canvas or frame,
    thumbs grubbed grease and powdered
    ochre into flaming suns
    and cagey lizards on cave walls’ –
    something I’ve always wanted to see. There are caves in southwestern France, near the village of Montignac, with over 600 paintings that cover the interior walls and ceilings.
    I love the idea of closing our eyes and hearing everything.

    1. Jedediah Smith

      I used to live near a number of Chumash rock art sites in the mountains above Santa Barbara. Painted Cave, Piedra Blancas, Pool Rock. They are small but very striking. I guess for you France is much closer tho!

      1. Sadly, I’ll have to wait for some semblance of normality and for travel restrictions to lift before I can even think of visiting another country – and I forgot to renew my passport in the confusion!

  2. Glenn A. Buttkus

    I love the title of your book of poems. Cro-Magnon dreamed, and civilization was whelped from that dreamscape, and perhaps aliens kept in touch, guiding us from the Bronze Age to Atomics and quantum physics.

    1. Jedediah Smith

      Thanks, Western books, movies, and histories were important to me growing up, so that still influences my writing. Rock and cave art all over the world has that astonishing quality of giving us a glimpse of the moment when humans’ imaginativw life was born.

  3. hypercryptical

    Although I am sure there were dangers, how wonderful it must have been to be alive then, to be pure and innocent, to want for nothing bar what you needed, and nothing more.
    And to listen. And to see. And to live.
    Anna :o]

    1. Jedediah Smith

      I agree. You could be eaten by a bear or die of a scratch. But you could also experience that amazing world barely touched by man.

    1. Jedediah Smith

      Cool, I was studying Chumash rock art at the time and this reflects the role of dreams in their understanding of the cosmos.

  4. Beverly Crawford

    Ah, humans have always dreamed, it’s just that the dreams have changed with the eons until, with a head full of dreams, they forget to listen. This is a brilliant poem!

  5. Your poem sounds wonderful read aloud. Those times captured in your poem feel as if they were dipped from the stream of the collective unconsciousness. Such good writing.

  6. They keep finding older and older rock art — some in a cave in Spain dates back some 65,000 years and is thought to have been created by a Neanderthal. It is so much closer to our animal, a listening beyond sight. Before we dreamed we heard everything. Well done.

    1. Jedediah Smith

      Thank you. I did not know that Neanderthal had created art – that is fascinating! Our early cousins reveal themselves to be deeper than we previously thought.

  7. I loved the reminder that modern humans aren’t getting things right. The global pandemic staring us down, have us cowering and scuppering. There are other ways of living. Remembering to ‘listen’ to our dreams.

  8. The contrast in values in this poem are subtlety and well crafted. By illuminating the similar expressions and needs through different tools of the human inhabitants, the reader is given space to fill in the blanks of how their use and restraint demonstrate very different outcomes.

Leave a Reply to hypercryptical Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s