SUCH GREAT HEIGHTS
From such great heights people appear
very small. Their buildings look like plastic toys.
The great trees look like tapered toothpicks.
The traffic at the end of the day looks like
ants swarming for honey. Those bridges
crisscrossing the river look like a 3rd grader
threw some spaghetti. Faces cannot be seen.
Nor the fish in yesterday’s newspaper.
Nor the neighbors talking about nothing.
Nor the two girls practicing free kicks
in front of trash can goals. People can’t
piss you off. Flowers are such miniscule
freckles you would decline to say they
have hue. From such great heights, none
of your family could be there in that city.
Or your best friend Juan. Or your sullen cat,
Kafka. You could stand there from far away
with your hammer no problem. You could
stand under the sky in your golden casino,
bashing out black holes in the copper windows
with one hand; a rifle stock stuck to your
shoulder, a ready finger on a thin metal
trigger on the other. With no problem.
With no problem at all.
Unchecked, it builds into a film. Unscrubbed, its crumbs
clog every road. Unseen, it crusts over the eyes and suddenly
you seek paradise by repeating one word over and over and over.
For a while, you could buy sharp squares of bamboo from Japan
and scrape it away after saying a prayer. For a few years, some
said it would flake off into scabs of gold as soon as you stepped
into the Ganges. A few self-proclaimed extremists said it was fine
and you should pile it on and build the crust so high a carapace
of armor developed and no one could hurt you with guns.
The small problem, of course, is only specialists can really see it
clearly. The large problem: working with it closely encourages
its spread. Indiscriminate, friendly to fraternity, wholly committed
to equality, it operates under the auspices of good intention
and brotherly care. But in close quarters it cakes everything.
Some cities have been known to be altered forever. Those places
seem to develop a thick viscous membrane discernible even from
satellites in space. Only a few have ever escaped after the membrane
appears. Fugitive accounts are very rare but all say the same thing:
everything begins to buzz, and you feel like you’re covered with bees.
Then the sky opens into gold brilliancy no one can take.
Then horsemen appear in the air.
NOW YOU MUST CROSS ON THE BODIES OF YOUR DEAD COMPANIONS
Strip your ship of sails, rid yourself of stores, raze all hulls into a million
unassembleable pieces. There is no way but forward. Survey the land.
Unfold your official papers. Marry a native who speaks the language.
Show her your book of gold. Defeat them, these Indians, the thousands.
Add them to your group. Call them your allies. But only after you find them
opposed to the major power of this land, the enemy. Lift your eyes.
Say you are on a mission from God. Write your letters to the king. Do not
be chased down by a ship of countrymen who have come to relieve you.
Split your forces. Leave a faction for your most trusted, Pedro De Alvarado.
March your men down the switchbacks to the coast. Launch a siege
on those who would to arrest you. Capture them. Stay, participate in
this conquest, or die—present them this offer. Enter the capitol now.
Gold necklaces, wreaths, flower laurels—wear what The Empire gives you.
Have your secretary note: I do not know how to describe the names
of things first heard of, seen, or dreamed of before. While an attendant
of The Empire writes: You seized upon the gold like monkeys. You starved
for it. You lusted. You stuffed yourselves like pigs. Capture their leader.
Leap forward in the middle of a religious ceremony, seize their leader,
and set down thousands. Let the attendant write: Our musicians you
attacked first, slashing at their hands and faces. We began to sing again,
but without warning, you pulled us to death. The singers, the spectators,
all were holding their insides in their hands. Take stock of your armaments.
You have one hundred horses, eighty crossbows, eighty harquebusier,
and two thousand warriors allies. Become cut-off in the capitol, trapped,
bound in a handful of stone block buildings. Repeal attacks for three weeks.
Kill their leader. Make his death appear ill-fated, mysterious, caused by
an unappeased and vengeful God. Moctezuma’s death. Kill the nobles, too.
Run out of food and water and gunpowder and become very desperate.
Glaze your eyes in the bright gloss of nightmare affliction—pass it on
to your soldiers and allies without words, without gesture. Become confused,
electric, your body lit and tilted by the equatorial heat of the New World.
Realize you are on an island. And the only way to escape is to cross
one of four causeways. All of which have had their bridges removed.
Tear at the walls, break the benches, use everything. Gather all the wood
to make a bridge. Risk it all. Embark on a midnight escape with hundreds
of your soldiers, thousands of Indian allies, carrying all the gold you’ve collected.
Take the shortest route, the causeway to the west. Muffle the horse hooves
with cloth. There is a rainstorm. Acknowledge the luck of this rainstorm as
a sign from God. Kiss your crucifix profusely, grotesquely. It’s midnight, begin.
Move across the causeway as silently as you can. But set an alarm off anyway.
The Empire’s Indians will descend upon you from both ends of the causeway now,
from all sides in their canoes. Be met with a hail of arrows, stones, spears.
Become enveloped by thousands and thousands as you fight your way across
to the causeway of the west. Let all your allies die. Die, almost, yourself when
you fall in the water, pulled back at the last second by one of your men. Watch
as many of your men fall in the water, and, unable to let go of the gold ransom
they carry, drown. Lose all your artillery, all your horses, all the women. Find
there is no temporary bridge at the edge of the causeway. But find, also, the gap
of the causeway filled with the bodies of the horses and dead men. Cross now
on the bodies of your dead companions. See how they are almost all the men
who sailed with you from the Old World. Step on their faces, fight around the lake.
Nearly annihilated, leave over one hundred Spaniards behind in the capital city.
Flee around the bank of the lake, still fighting, as your companions are painted,
forced to dance, and sacrificed at the top of the great pyramid. Your name is
Hernan Cortes. Look back. Gaze at what you’ve done. Freeze it. Burn it there.
And in order to open a window for your God, imagine the perfect revenge.