The fifteen-foot ramparts were torn to pieces
by peasants for fences for five hundred years
but the Tarascan main street all the way down
to the lake is as it was for the most part.
To tote the lava rocks they wove backpacks they attached
by thongs bound round their sloped-back foreheads
and then built fortresses like spirals chopped in half,
which they called yacata-domes, from which they battled the doom
the Aztecs tried to bring them. Their observatory’s quadrants
told them when to sow down in the alti-
plano, when to do fiestas by stomping
ching-ching with ankle bells to tantric drums
and when to suck out venom with the vacuum of fasts,
for even the nature of evil abhors a vacuum.
Like moths, their eyes fell in love with torches
whose wands on fire were showcased in butterfly boats
quite safe, you know, in the big blue bowl of the lake
from which they drank when thirsty. They lived and throve
among these marshes and piney-wood mountains.
The hummingbird whispered them with its wings that said, “Zig-
zag, I fly anywhichway.” Their everywhichway powers held
their secrets in the same sound as when green wood sizzles
while burning, as water boiling, and in the wind whizzing
through feathers unpredictable as windsocks’ tails wagging
and the whirlybird that wasn’t invented yet either.
Andrew H. Oerke was a Peace Corps director in Africa and the Caribbean, and for many years president of a private volunteer organization. Mr. Oerke was the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship at the Freie Universität in Berlin. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, and in many other publications in the U.S. and abroad. In 2003, he was given the award for literature by the U.N. Society of Writers and Artists. He spent time this spring and summer in Haiti, coordinating medical assistance for earthquake victims. (9/2010)