Cibola 31

Marcos (1) (cont’d)

                    The old woman
points back to the pole they’d passed
at the center of the village, bedecked
with dark tufts he’d taken for raven feathers.
I danced with it–Me,
in my old rags, my dry
breasts flying,
she says, half
in pantomime,
                    laughing
at the white man’s grimace, his childishly
transparent face. The interpreter
tries to explain it: a widespread belief
that if you keep the crown
of the head in your possession
the soul of your slain enemy can’t leave
for the Land Below the East.
After the ceremony & the sixteen
days of separation, its owner–
this man–can fashion the scalp
into a homunculus, a slave
small enough to live in a basket
in the corner.

And reading de Niza’s expression
the interpreter signals an end to it, but
the friar steels himself,
persists: How do they make it serve them
without escaping–or slicing their throats
while they sleep?

The crone straightens, speaking quietly
the way an abbess he knew used to look
any time he tried to tease her
about her youngest charges.
They welcome him into the home like family.
Every day they feed him, even
sing to him at first so he won’t grow homesick.
He’s just like any servant–it’s only when
you forget to feed him that he starts
into mischief, seduces a daughter or a wife
.

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