The Spice Trade

~ after Armando Valero, “Angel de alas blancas” (“Angel of white wings”)

How could archives be amassed
if not for the visions of image-
makers? I don’t mean the kings
and queens whose names children
memorized in school, the ones
who commanded a fleet of vessels
to set sail for worlds beyond
the known world and bring back
proof of other kinds of sweetness
not yet touched by the plague
of our endless wanting. What
lesson remains from centuries
of plunder, from plucking
cascades of fruit and flower,
dredging the ocean floor from New
Guinea to Samboangan and Zebu,
Hilo Bay to Valparaiso and the Gulf
of Penas? There must be more to it
than any open-ended affair with
the catalogue. Ask the poets
and minstrels and foot soldiers;
the cooks, the peelers of moldy
potato before the ship’s stores
ran out. If the body needs armor
as reminder of its potential for
disintegration, why adorn
the plate of metal with flourishes
of brass and studs of leather?
Why soak the skin of a dying
monarch in tinctures of cinnamon
bark, cassia, eucalyptus oil?
Don’t look now, but the angel
of history is practicing
levitation along a deserted
beach. Our standard-bearer keeps
very still, because an oracle
with wings has landed on her wrist.

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