What They Ate: Mission San Jose, 1800
After the Padres came and built their mud houses
where they said, Dios vive, the people ate
God’s body, a flat white thing with no flavor,
and more: they learned to grow wheat for bread,
tend cattle and sheep, eat tame fruit picked from trees
planted where oaks had dropped acorns.
Livestock foraged the hills and meadows,
elk and deer grew lean on small rations, or fled.
Rivers that had always gone their own way
were directed into ditches and ponds, sent
in channels to fields of strange new grasses.
The people used to choose their path
like water; now they hauled boulders,
un trabajo pesado, and cleared canals of silt.
After such hard labor, the Padres promised,
they would rest in El Cielo, where no one
goes hungry, no one works, and El Señor
would give back all they had lost.
When they sickened and died in great numbers,
they were glad at least that once again
they would eat salmon and horn snails,
wild buckwheat and fennel, mussels
and blackberries, fiddleneck shoots,
the sweet oily acorn, baked on hot stones.