Poetry - Issue 21 | October 2014

Three poems by Athena Kildegaard

The Silver Road

Silver in padlocked coffers and chests,
filigreed caskets, clay pots,
all lashed to carts pulled by oxen,
pulled south along the Camino Real,
the Camino de Plata, from Zacatecas
and Fresnillo and Guanajuato
through Sombrerete, Nombre de Dios,
Avino, all the way to Veracruz,
to the caravels lashed but leaning toward Spain.

A sixteenth century map shows
the Royal Road winding past grazing bulls
and three-pronged cactus, the perspective
askew, as if you’re looking down from clouds.
But the bulls, the cactus, the laden carts
and horse guards with heavy weapons,
even the chichimecas waiting with their bows
and arrows stand parallel to the sky.
There is no other way to show fear and wealth.

At the harbor a clerical representative
of the Inquisition looked into every book. His man
stood by to brand the pages. Other men traded
scalps for coin, the coin reassurance to those
who disembarked, stories of land boiling with savages
in their heads, myths of streets and people veneered
in gold in their heads, letters sealed by the king’s wax
tucked into billfolds, promises of wealth and power
buried almost by fear of drought and contagion
and death at the hands of men who ate beetles and prayed
to no christian god.

Stevedores unloaded olive oil in glass jugs,
spices, missals, Holland linen, mercury,
compasses, perfumes, goat cheese, lutes.
Carmelite nuns and Franciscans with their vials
of holy water carried in cotton from the mother church,
scientists, charlatans, merchants with their wives
and offspring, artisans, whores, soldiers, marched
from deck to land. The trip north to Zacatecas
took six months, days of waiting on dim patios
for fresh horses, of sleeping on straw and eating cactus
preserved in vinegar, of watching the dismal parade
of poor and refugee, gambler, diseased, who told tales
of robbery and palaces built around springs, of shipwrecks
and silver, so much silver all Spain could rise on bullion
and those at the top would never see the earth, the soil,
the reapers with their sharpened scythes.

The trip took six months if you didn’t surrender
or turn back or lie down in a cave gnawed
by visions of what you’d seen and what was to come,
your skin itching, the taste of silver you’d once had
under your tongue leached away and the hunger with it.

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About the author

Athena Kildegaard has lived in Sydney, Australia, Guanajuato, Mexico, Roskilde, Denmark, and several cities in the U.S.  She is the author of Rare Momentum, Bodies of Light, and Cloves & Honey.

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