Cibola 25

Marcos (1) (cont’d)

The friar’s memories are already
an old man’s memories, farsighted,
graceful in flight for all their ugliness,
returning on weather-tested pinions
to circle some distant spot,
the same carrion

that back in the dripping
forest of the Nicarao would’ve
melted from the bones inside
a week. Here in the parched North
he feels closer

to the high tablelands of Peru, where
a carcass could lie out
for years–the sun coming
day after day to curl around it–
& lose nothing but the coins on its eyes
to some marauding packrat.

Despoblados,
he’ll write in his official account,
but this morning the so-called desert
seems too full for words. He knows
he has only to shut his eyes for more
than six seconds (he counts down

like a professional dreamer descending
the rungs of sleep) to see
again the blood-soaked bodies
stacked like kindling, hear
the hair-raising wails, the laughter
of all those so-called Christians–
Gil Gonzalez’s men–lacking
only pitchforks to make them
spitting images of the devils
in some carnival troupe,
such glee they took
tossing babies onto bayonets,
with such nonchalance
slicing off a hand, a nose, a nursing
breast–milk
& blood conjoined in
a single fountain–

just to test the temper of the blade, they said,

& waxing indignant if the friar persisted
with his mild reproachful queries.
They’d kill us all, these curséd devils,
if we didn’t put the fear of God in them.

__________

back in the dripping forest of the Nicarao: Most of what I’ve written here about the friar’s early career is speculation; there is disagreement about whether his first sojourn in the Americas was in what is now Nicaragua, or Guatemala. It is known that he traveled from the latter location to Peru, where he described some of the horrors of the conquest, in similar terms to what I’ve written here, in a letter published by Las Casas in his Short History of the Destruction of the Indies. Marcos’s broad experience as a traveler in the New World was one of the main factors cited by the Minister Provincial in his selection for a scouting expedition to the Seven Cities (see Reader (3)).

Despoblados: “Unpopulated areas,” i.e. deserts (desiertos).

Gil Gonzalez: The conquistator D’Avila.

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