Bastions

In the early hours, it comes to me
there’s a numbness in my big toe at the tip
and along one side, as if on that peninsula
some kind of drift has taken place overnight,
spreading sediment to build a barrier
against feeling. If this is some kind

of warning sent up by the body,
I can’t decode its telegram, can’t
figure out how long it’s taken to arrive;
or why something in that not so distant out-
post should be walling itself off, going
quiet, preparing for undetermined siege.

Three summers ago, my youngest
daughter and I toured the streets of the old
Walled City in Manila. On foot, in the heat,
the same cobblestone streets Indios— brown,
like us— walked to do the bidding of
their masters: from the 16th century until

the hero turned to face the firing squad
before he fell on the dirt in the field
of Bagumbayan; until peasant armies rose up
waving flags, brandishing their muskets,
their balisongs, their iták… We crossed
the courtyard with a fountain, looked up

at ramparts lined with ancient brick and terra
cotta. From the Baluarte de San Diego, sentinels
on patrol might get a clearer southwest facing view
for artillery defense against pirates and foreign
invaders. How many versions of this are there
in myth and history? Before the maps themselves

are inked, the eye calculates space against
only two basic measures: here, and there.
Or, what falls outside the boundaries drawn
thick on parchment, and where tribes cluster
around fires that mark where they believe
they’ve managed to command the dark to fall

away in retreat. With my hands, I chafe my feet
to goad the blood’s circulation, to work up heat.
It’s impossible to intuit all the pulses ticking
on the blurry edges. History tells of sudden
movement— of one shot fired in darkness
across a bridge, and the long war that ensued.

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