Cibola 57

Esteban (3) (cont’d)

He lies back, resigned to insomnia’s
non-stop digging, the incidental maze
left by the quest for seeds,
for kernels. Gnawing
at his gut . . .

To assert, for instance, that nuggets
of gold–or the tremors of a beautiful
woman’s chest–can in fact
be counted, starting
at some arbitrary point, assumes
such things are uniform, interchangeable.
One breath,
one grain can be traded
for any other. The greatest
despoilers of land & men
are eulogized for their wisdom
in introducing uniform weights
& measures: what had been
whispered against as theft
through simple sleight-
of-hand becomes
a system, right as rain.
Fully elaborated,
they called it al-jabr: the Reduction.
The logic of the slave market.

How strange, then–if this clunky
chain of thought links up
to some simulacrum of the truth–that
a merchant & slaver should’ve embraced
a system that dismissed such logic . . .
or maybe not so odd. For if
on the other hand you base
all calculations on the premise
of universal interpretability, then
the numbers don their own wings, & then
every object & event becomes
not only unique but also fated.
Irrevocable. The obscure
will of a sovereign Master . . .

His mind wanders, going back
to that ballyhooed time
when he’d been only one
of four, & the man
whom he had ceased by then
to consider a master–don Andres–
straggled far behind with Castillo
& Cabeza de Vaca, telling each other
Estebanico‘s service as
their spokesman made them appear
more powerful to the credulous natives . . .

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