Monday, July 22, 2019

Poetry from the Yucatan War

The following two poems address the schism between public opinion and actual experience of the Yucatan Wars currently devastating the Peninsula. Author attributions at the bottom.

Tlachtli Miquini  
(roughly translates as "Ball Court Worthy of Death")

There's a breathless hush in the Court to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bouncing ball and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last girl in.
And it's not for the sake of a paper coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But her captain's hand on her shoulder smote
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

The stones of the city are sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And Tikal's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolgirl rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
'Play up! play up! and play the game!

- Recited every tenday by the Agency of War Propaganda from their headquarters in the Excanaltepetl, capitol of the Triple Alliance

Nocuica Atl-Tlachinolli
(roughly translates as "Song of War", taken literally, "Song of Fire-Water")

for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
We stood in the doorway watching turtles
Swim off lazily across the lagoon’s crest.
We stared through the reed screen,
Our vision altered by the distance
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their fins when they faded
Like cut-out turtles
Away from us.
The maize was never more blue in that light, more
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
They swung finally away from me ...

But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,
Still I close my eyes and see the girl
Running from her village, napalm
Stuck to her dress like jelly,
Her hands reaching for the no one
Who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
Beat inside her until she rises
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling
Muscles draw her up
into that final position

Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air
And not the jade green
Lagoon unfolding before us can deny it.

- Discovered among the personal effects of Sergeant Tlachinola, sent to his family after a "training accident" with his sidearm.

The first poem is "Vita Lampada", by Sir Henry Newbolt, and the second, "Song of Napalm", by Bruce Weigl.

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