Elfugio Aragon on Good Friday waits once again in the line meandering toward the carved doors of El Santuario de Chimayo. It is his ancient costumbre to make this pilgrimage. Elfugio remembers his parents and grandparents walking to this place singing alabados as they traveled. When he was younger, he started from Truchas, but now—too old. These days his youngest son, Juan Bautista, drives him down in the pickup and lets him off at the edge of the crowd. At least this allows Juan’s aged father the dignity of walking—if only a quarter mile—to the Holy Place as he has done for seventy-three years.
Waiting to enter, Elfugio listens patiently to the sparrows debating in the adobe belfries and to the murmur of the pious crowd. And he attempts to remember all those for whom he must pray. Prayers, certainly for the repose of the soul of his wife Amalia, of thanks for his great-grand-daughter—Teresita Borregos’s baby—whose name he can’t recall—for Joe in Iraq, for friends now dead, for the blessings of a long and uncomplainingly hard life, for the souls of his parents, for the President, the Pope, the Bishop, for Father Roque who tried to retire to Spain after serving Santuario for forty years but couldn’t do it and came back to his true home; and lastly for his faithful lover of so many years, the Blessed Virgen de Guadalupe.
Pausing at the entryway, Elfugio leans his walking against the wall with the dozens of other pilgrim’s staffs and enters the holy room once more. As he crosses himself at the entryway, the holy water, cool on his forehead, eases away his weariness, while inside, the sanctuary is quiet, no singing, no voices, only the slow shuffle and creak of people as they kneel or rise. The room glows tranquilly from the light of votive candles brought by the faithful. Angels, he thinks, them lights is angels bringing messages to God.
Kneeling at one of the worn benches he says an old man’s prayer, the kind that doesn’t need words, the kind of prayer that is left after all the words have already been said, and is at peace at his sacred Good Friday home.
—on Good Friday
“Acequia Madre” we call it,
The Mother Ditch.
Grandmother says it has
Been with us beyond memory,
Carrying the living waters
From the blue hills to our fields.
And in the spring when the willows
Have again become eternal green
We burn the ditch to clear the waterway.
Then, all across the valley,
Smoke rises like incense at the Mass.
The ravens, who see everything,
Turn and wheel high above us,
Within the gray pall of smoke.
Their somber cries rise across the hills
And our valley is filled
With both incense and bells.
We have a procession, too;
Purple clouds and shadows of clouds
Moving across sage and piñon,
Past ditches, hills, and houses;
And over us as we work in the fields,
Acolytes, servants of the Mother Ditch.
It is time for the planting of corn,
And the seed lies beneath the furrows
Waiting for the warming sun
Which will bring resurrection
And an end to our vigil.
The waters always come back
To the Mother Ditch;
Spring always returns,
And each year I am surprised
To discover that she is right.