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Winter/Spring 2019

Cortez and Company

 

by Paul Kiernan

 

From the fortress you can picture them
Making a wet landing from their boats,
With all their armor and weapons
Brilliant under the harsh sun;
Their standards and banners flying.
The drums beating a martial tattoo.
Skittish horses unruly for their grooms
Rearing up and whinnying on the beach.
And the priests devoutly making their orations
With censors of incense swinging to heaven.

These were the conquerors
Though really they were more like immigrants,
More like exiles; no place for them at home,
Soldiers where there were no longer wars.
And of course the lure for every immigrant
That must have seemed so real for a people of faith:
Seven Cities of Gold, a fountain of youth,
Things incredulous in our unbelieving age.

Forced marches brought them through deserts
And the high sierras
To their new wars and to their hardships:
Wounds, hunger, the death of companions.
They were tempered against such adversity.
They were toughened against privation.

But who could believe they were prepared for this,
These people of another faith,
To find all these legends imaginary.
And still the perfidious viceroys ever demanding treasure
And the conversions to their trinity
Of a people dressed like extravagant birds!
Who wouldn’t doubt they ate
Some bitterness here so far from home
Surrounded by these strange temples
And dismal jungles filled
With the cackling of obscene monkeys.

 

[More poems by Paul Kiernan]

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