I: Before time came

In canopies where sunlight flickers,
a tail of jade feathers droops
and I hear

With that whimpering long note for company,
I imagine your jade-crested head,
round as an Indonesian Rambutan,
jade cape down your back.
In flight, your streaming tail
streaks the sky with jade.

As your plumes fall,
they crown the heads
of Aztec and Mayan kings and emperors,
to greet the sun.

And Moctezuma II, warrior jaguar,
wears a crest fashioned from your molted plumes.

II: 1518

Half-man-half-horse creatures shine in their silver shells.
Gods! the Aztecs cry.
Messengers’ conches blow:
Feathered-serpent, Quetzalcoatl has returned! they announce.

Our ruling god’s promise is fulfilled, Moctezuma declares.
The human-horse creatures receive gifts—
beads, furs, feathers, gold nuggets.
The nuggets’ gleam sparks the glee of greed.
Hernán Cortés speaks: Take me to your emperor;
I wish to pay him my courtesies.


Tenochtitlán, Venice of the Americas.
La Malinche, enslaved princess of Paynala,
whispers the legend in his ear,
and Cortés proclaims to Moctezuma:
I am Quetzalcoatl.

Drums beat
painted faces
beaded ankles
dance begins
death strikes
Spanish blades cut golden-brown sinews.
Moctezuma’s feathers droop,
and you, Quetzal, wail:

You flee to the heartland of your race: Guatemala.
Your sorrow makes your blue plumage grow.
Your wails never end.

III: 1981: The first of three years of Mayan slaughter

Night falls
hammocks sway
doors are battered
homes overturned,
shrines wrecked.

The Guatemalan Army
wears bloody berets.
Their toothless swords spit fire.
Men, women, children, are dragged.
The Maya are silenced by thunderous gunfire—
blood splatters stones.

And Quetzal shrieks:

Tú, Quetzal, angustiado
con tu pecho manchado con la sangre de tu gente Maya, haces de tu canto un llanto.1

1You, anguished Quetzal,
with your chest stained with the blood of your Mayan people,
make your song a lament.

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