From that wild shore, beyond the Caribees,
Where howler-monkeys shriek from ceiba trees
Hung with lianas – camouflaged retreat
For humming-bird or flaunting parakeet –
Lunges the phallic thrust of Yucatan,
Home once to god-obsessed barbaric man.
Half-crumbled ruins here identify
Lost Chichen-Itza, Uxmal, Lamanai,
Or, deeper in, Copan, Tikal, Tulum,
All captive in that rankly verdant gloom
Where orchids twine through tangled ferns, shikar
Haunts for tarantula and jaguar.
Down stifling trails where iguanas creep
Gaunt vestiges of haughty buildings peep
Through thickets where, beside some shaggy mound
- Rough sepulchre of outworks underground -
Chipped lattices of stonework still outsoar
The ravelled nests of toucan or macaw,
To crest worn temples on the stepped foundation
Raised by the Maya in praise of Procreation.
Friezed courtyards angled on an astral grid
Clustered around this central pyramid;
Colossal works, aligned and built in fear
Of deviation from the solar year
To overawe terrestrial life, begun
Long, long ago, by edict of the sun.
Still from the top, vertiginously steep,
Prodigious flights of steps in one great sweep
Descend, with rough-hewn reptiles on each side
As guardians, who in monstrous writhings glide
Downward, transforming at the plaza floor
To feathered serpents, whose wide-open maw
Frames an anthropomorphic talisman:
Quetzalcoatl – sky god – Kukulcan!
To Him, at dawn, all Mayans had to pray:
‘Lord, let the sun come up again today!’
– Aware omission of this obligation
Invites catastrophe, annihilation
Of all that lies beneath the golden disk –
A stake too high to justify the risk.
Yet plenitude of sun commands a price –
Aridity – which human sacrifice
Alone can pay, so prisoners are marched
Across the intervening compound, parched
By burning rays, toward the towering pile
And dragged submissive up the stairway, while
The people gather, avid, in the square
Like famished termites as their lords prepare
The baneful rite exacted by the rule
Of life-reviving god of rain – Chac-Mool!
Step back in time, restore the status quo:
See priests above, a multitude below
Scanning the high-plumed celebrants, who fling
Down rush-plait matting, fit for priestly king
Alone to tread, when to the beat of drums
He in the guise of Huitzil’pochtli comes
– The Mayan war god – from an inner shrine
Where hieroglyphic calendars define
Celestial omens, never disobeyed.
His girdle hung with skulls, his breastplate jade,
The jaguar’s spotted pelt across his back
Spattered with symbols of the zodiac,
The crown of quetzal feathers on his head
Grimly displayed to be a thing of dread,
He like his suppliants knows that human pain
Alone makes rain to fall, the sun regain
His empire, an indemnity they choose
To render brutal gods their brutal dues.
This hierophant with catatonic eyes
Surveys the altar where the scapegoat lies
And – spurred by powers now locked in barren strife
To conjure new life from the death of life –
He, less than god himself, yet more than man,
Plunges a blade of black obsidian
To split the sternum, tear the lungs apart,
And from the living carcase rip the heart
With ritual motion. Then the impassive priest
Holds up the grisly trophy to the east;
A sacral offering….raw….pulsating….red.
The victim twitches….bleeding….not yet dead,
Till an attendant from the altar tears
The corpse, and hurls it headlong down the stairs,
While acolytes chant mantras to the skies.
And from the horde below a roar replies,
Repeating and repeating the refrain:
‘Great Lord of Plenty, Chac-Mool, bring us rain!
The self-destructive germ this cult contained,
A death-in-life-style not to be sustained,
Laid fatal toll upon the population,
Eliminating it by vitiation.
So when, in course of time, conquistadors
In galleons reach these sun-rain-blood-soaked shores,
– Renaming tropic seas ‘The Spanish Main’,
With proud hidalgos as their suzerain –
They find a land already in decline,
Its cities desolate, its chiefs supine,
Its warriors defencelessly dispersed,
Their lurid gods to Catholics accurst –
All fodder for colonial exploitation.
So, peons on some overlord’s plantation
Or, in his mines, chained labour as a slave,
They grub the gold the colonisers crave;
Who, in return most Christianly impart
The consolations of…the Sacred Heart,
And keep this servile workforce in subjection
By mental not corporeal vivisection.
In latter days this reel has been rewound:
Whole populations, faces to the ground,
Are still coerced, in every harsh regime
Where might is right and tortured victims scream,
To sacrifice inalienable rights
To power-drugged predatory parasites
Who rip the hearts from those who disobey.
Milosevic, Ceaucescu, Pinochet,
Pol Pot, Mugabe, Saddam, Papa Doc;
Make your own list: the world is choc-a-bloc
With state-run talibans where some arch-priest,
Or martial thug, or ranting arriviste
Proclaims himself the Father of the Nation
And says, what’s more, God called him to that station,
As did those Mayan hierarchs when in place.
Today, as then, a whole cowed populace
Must look on fearful horrors open-eyed –
Environment destruction, genocide,
Ritual murder, unprovoked aggression,
Fanatic faith and racial dispossession –
That whole shebang of psychopathic capers
Scattered like plague-spots through our daily papers.
Of course in our own civilised domains
No trace of such aggressiveness remains;
In fact we show what decency expects
To countries with political defects,
Enticing them by tinsel-wrapped donations
To join our ‘great community of nations’.
All monolithic governments perhaps
Nurture the seedlings of their own collapse;
A wall will fall; a fountain overflow;
A people shout: ‘The generals must go!’;
And golden days of freedom can begin….
Fat chance! Adventurers come flooding in,
To fill this ‘unexpected vacancy’
With all the blessings of democracy,
Arranged, be sure, on principles applied
Through binding business contracts nationwide.
The paramount conquistadors today
Are ‘market forces’ drawn by disarray
Who, like their Spanish counterparts of old,
Have one objective, namely: where’s the gold?;
Have one clear mission statement: “Strike it rich,
And let no squeamish scruples queer the pitch.”
Smooth clean-up merchants, sure, yet not unwilling
For blood to flow if they can make a killing.
So while this grasping rabble screws the nation,
What happens to the huddled population?
Well, no less impotent and no less poor,
Their lives drag on the same way as before,
Tribute still offered to the man on top
Not in the temple now but in the shop;
Chac-Mool appearing somewhat lazy-bones
By contrast with go-getting god – Dow Jones,
Who, though not so exotically dressed,
Offers a keener rate of interest.
Dow’s votaries propose that dome and steeple
Convert to bingo-halls for bone-head people
Who, having taken pimps into their bed,
Deserve no more than circuses – and dread.
They know a mob, concussed by drink and sports
And sex, stays blind to cash-flow juggernauts,
For though democratising brings turmoil,
Those troubled waters are a source of oil!
Well, to whichever deities we bend
It’s down to even-stevens in the end:
Pre-programmed men (and women) still in charge,
While corporations grow, combine, enlarge,
And fifty-storey business centres rise
– Chac-Mool’s stepped pyramid in new disguise –
That, like those Mayan structures, signal yearnings
For growth by death – of public sector earnings;
The liquid assets for green-fund renewal
Not driving rain today, but driving fuel.
Now spread-sheets splay where once were astral charts,
But graph the same old trade in human hearts.
‘Lay down your lives’, the young are blandly told,
‘To guard our freedoms, and defend our old
Grey heads; but do not dare to disarrange
The twin-towered temples of the Stock Exchange.’
And we must fear – a phobia not irrational
Since these conquistadors are multi-national –
To wake, as their core database expands,
One day, to find the whole world in their hands.
And so foreboding monkeys howl in trees
In many lands, beyond those Caribees.
Adrian Brown © 2009