Shambhala Sun | September 2013
About a Poem: Naomi Shihab Nye on Rosemary Catacalos' "Homesteaders"
They came for the water,
came to its sleeping place
here in the bed of an old sea,
the dream of the water.
They sank hand and tool into
soil where the bubble of springs
gave off hope, fresh and long,
the song of the water.
Babies and crops ripened
where they settled,
where they married their sweat
in the ancient wedding,
the blessing of the water.
They made houses of limestone
and adobe, locked together blocks
descended from shells and coral,
houses of the bones of the water,
shelter of the water.
And they swallowed the life
of the lime in the water,
sucked its mineral up
into their own bones
which grew strong as the water,
the gift of the water.
All along the counties they lay,
mouth to mouth with the water,
fattened in the smile of the water,
the light of the water,
water flushed pure through the
spine and ribs of the birth of life,
the old ocean,
the home of the water.
—from Again For the First Time, 1984 and 2013, Wings Press.
Poetry pulls us toward sources—of memory, loss, creation,
beauty, or peculiarly curious juxtaposition. Poetry says, things don’t always make
sense or fit together in ways we might have dreamed or preferred, but sometimes
this layered, leaping language we love may offer healing cure or comforting
refreshment. Poetry as wellspring—we want to camp near the spirit it opens in
us, make a small, tidy fire beside the bubbling source of being and thinking,
inside the quietly mindful air.
In her poem “Homesteaders,” Rosemary Catacalos, who grew up in
San Antonio, Texas, of Greek and Mexican ancestry and has spent most of her
life here, casts an eye back toward earlier inhabitants of this lovely green
region, warm much of the year. (This gentle, soft-aired city is frequently
surprising to visitors who come to south-central Texas expecting the flat
panhandle.) Catacalos’ poem invokes the potent power of the underground aquifer
that made human life here possible at all—the source of life in its own deep chamber,
which we never even see.
A city famous for its elegant, well-tended river, San Antonio
continues to pay close attention to the water resource underground, insisting
on highly particular summer water rationing. (Depending on your address, you
get only a few hours a week to water with a sprinkler or irrigation system.) I love
Catacalos’ repeated chant-chorus “of the water,” which creates a dreamy rhapsody
akin to the spell people sometimes feel standing on a beach. The poem feels
like a blessing, a prayer.
Recently, after our usual months of semi-drought, this city saw
a rare day of nine to twelve inches of rain. The aquifer rose dramatically and
ever since, the ground seems to be holding its own note of gratitude—the
hundredyear- old pecan trees feel refreshed in their airy motions. This is how
people feel sometimes when, after a long hiatus, they give themselves the gift
of reading or writing poetry again. One thing quite agreeable about poetry is
it’s short—you can sneak it in. No silly excuses about “not having time” to
read any… a poem dips a reader deeply and quickly into a wellspring of text and
remembering, nourishing us so intimately that no one else may even guess why we
And what a perfect poem to signify the republication of the 2013
Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos’ exquisite book of poems, Again for the First
Time, originally published nearly thirty years ago in New Mexico, now being
printed in a new edition from Wings Press, San Antonio. Time, water, and wings—we
praise the loud doves that awaken us daily in this city’s old neighborhoods.
Alongside them, we offer our chorus of thanksgiving and gentle bows.