From her book Dancing with Ataxia—
The Road to Chimayó
by Erica Lehrer
It’s not that I believe in miracles
but I set out one morning to visit a place
where miracles are believed to happen.
I imagine spooning the sacred dirt into a bag,
leaving my cane among the rows of broken
crutches, walkers and canes left by others
and strolling unaided into the daylight.
The road to Chimayó drops into a slot
of the Rio Grande, snaking past orchards
and fruit stands waiting for their season.
I take in the views of the hard red earth
and snow-dusted exposures, rolling down
the windows to inhale cold air and meditate
as much as one can while still driving.
The trip, although scenic, seems long – too long.
Somewhere, somehow, I have become part
of a lengthy funeral procession, the fifth car
behind the hearse. I dare not pass for fear of bad karma,
so I turn the radio off and my headlights on.
I mouth a prayer for the deceased, thinking
“What a lovely place to die!”
Finally, Chimayó, New Mexico’s answer to Lourdes!
You’ve been, no? Then you know how its thin air holds you
in a healing embrace, its land fed by the Sangre de Christo
-- a pilgrimage site of promise. Inside the adobe sanctuary,
I pause before baby shoes, prom and graduation photos
of teens lost to drugs or fast cars, of faces of loved ones
in uniform and, everywhere, fervent, handwritten prayers.
I stoop to gather my quota of brown dust,
scooping it into a small bag and fall to my knees.
Some people eat the dirt, believing in its curative powers;
Others rub it on afflicted parts. I think: I will do anything
-ANYTHING – to have my ease of movement restored.
I watch others come and go, lost in prayer. The sacred dirt
seems to replenish itself from below the sanctuary floor.
Then I do an uncharacteristic thing: I cry. No one notices –
except a man with weathered skin and kind brown eyes.
When, moments later, I am unable to get to my feet,
he steps forward and offers me his arm, which I take.
As my hand closes over his wrist, I realize
that his arm is plastic. We walk together
into the blinding sunlight of the sanctuary’s garden.