1492

Lindsay Cohn, Leeza Heaven, Rafael Alejandro Jara

A cross on the sea,
Red on the blue horizon,
Changes everything

Behind, pale certainty. Ahead
Vivid waves of the unknown.

To the horizon’s
Birthing of a first-born son
Rushes westward bows.

The winds that billowed those hopes
Had already seen tragedies

Starvation, disease
And death. The cruel curse of
Over-ambition.

Trailing fingers across maps,
drawing fables of greatness

The lines of empire
Ever expanding over wild
Domains of nothing.

In search of aromatic
Spices. Turmeric. Curry. Clove.

His whiskers twitching
anxious to taste New World cheese
darting past lost boots.

All the world would know plague at
Quetzalcoatl’s return

Seascapes of sapphire,
Jewel-encrusted coasts, welcome
Wearied travelers.

Genoa-born weaver’s son
out discovering the known

Worlds of the Orient,
He tripped on something greater
Yet never believed.

In the distance white waves crash
Against knotted ginger roots.

Three fleets leaving trails
of golden, Spanish bread crumbs,
cross the Atlantic.

Boabdil’s cries still ringing
From the Alhambra’s shadow.

Feeble bodies dream,
Longing for vanilla breezes
And rich Assam tea.

Or maybe just the sight of land,
escape from floating prisons.

Freedom from the waves,
The endlessly bucking wait,
Into the green shade

Columbus and his ninety
Dependable crew prayed

After ten weeks, land.
Was this the Orient or a new world?
Indians in the Indies?

What did they rediscover
Gazing at the silent ocean?

The agony of
Aching for amethyst and
Garnet seductions.

The woman, home waiting for
the Seven Seas admiral

Her long-traveled love,
Ulysses-like Magellan,
Harried and tasty

Smashed crimson berries bleed
Overflowing with sweet wine.

That lays untasted
as gentle hands caress her
stomach. Hurry back.

It is restless in her womb,
A new world primed to be born.

After months at sea
Delirium sets in. Sailors
Drift like sea-haggard gypsies.

Bodies swaying left and right
wind caresses tendrils of hair

Teasing mermaids sing,
Albatrosses overhead,
And the rum is gone

Hysteria haunts the vessel
Moonlight mania runs rampant.

Disease and distress
line up on deck eager for
the new West Indies

And the ports of Panama
With all their pieces-of-eight

Greed-ridden sailors
Seek pelts and furs. Peeled
Flesh and exposed bone.

Boots crushing fingers, trampling
exposed spines, scoffing the earth

Lustful hands putting
Wonders to torch and melting
The Inca gardens[1]

Dreaming of the afterglow
Of a dusty gold sundown.

Proved earth was round but
celebrated for discovering
the already discovered

That’s the myth of it; the earth
Had been round for centuries

Columbus’s fleet
the Nina, the Pinta, the
Santa Maria.

Three women. Divorced, annulled
then married to new territory.

Sacajawea[2],
Pocohontas[3], Malinche[4]:
Three brides to fortune

Composed of mud, sand and sod.
The defiant earth, stares seaward.

Sending thick, sharp brush
resistance to be cut down
by machetes and swords.

So adieu Colocolo[5],
Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse[6].

A return to sea
sustenance. Beans, lentils, rice,
sardines, vinegar.

Chin rests on fist, explorer
yet to do what he tried to.

In 7000
Annus Mundi[7], when all would
Pass, or was to come.

To blame, a faulty compass
Or a failure of conscience?


[1] Accounts of the Inca empire describe a lavish garden of gold and silver in Cuzco that was melted by the conquistadors.

[2] Shoshone translator to the Lewis & Clark expedition across the newly bought Louisiana territory of the American West.

[3] Powhatan princess famous for interceding to save the English explorer, John Smith.

[4] Nahua translator and mistress to Cortez, she aided him in his conquest of the Aztec Empire.

[5] Central figure in Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga’s epic poem, La Araucana, about the conquest of Chile.

[6] Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were Lakota resistance leaders against American settlement.

[7] 7000 Annus Mundi was the year in the Byzantine calendar prophesied to be the end of the ancient world.

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