To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, June 1, 2018

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (10): The Birth of the War God (Aztec)

old Coatlicue snake woman
's sweeping up
a feather falleth on her
more like a ball of feathers 'twas
'twas fluff
that moment she did pick it up
deposited it betwixt her legs
then ended
sweeping would want to take it out
from legs but nothing's
there that instant
she's grown pregnant
the 400 Brothers saw
their mother
a great anger
fills them
"who hath made thee pregnant
“made thee into mother
"it lays on us
                        “it shames us
(says their sister Coyolxauhqui)
"who has laid it
"on us has made
"what grows betwixt her legs
Old Mother knows it now's
so scared a great weight
lies on her the child
between her legs brings
comfort (sez)
"I know now what I have to do"
Snake Woman hears her boy's
was a great comfort
calmed her heart
was blowing full of
little blisses

thus joined
400 Brothers would agree
in turn
those southerners did then
how they would take their mother ' s
            for shaming them
so fierce 400 Brothers were
were full of
wrath as if their hearts were
leaving them for anger
sweet sister Coyolxauhqui
's working up & cooling
anger of her brothers
will go & kill
old mother
they prepare for
are dressed for it
400 Brothers
strut like generals
spinning & tangling
of hair
entanglement of headhairs
was among them one
brother Cuahuitlicac
but couldn't keep his
what 400 Brothers said
he told to Huitzilopochtli
"little uncle
"thou should be always standing guard
“I got
                        "some planning of my own

so had made up their minds to
kill her
be finished with old mother
so fancy
had started marching
'twas little sister guided them
so like a bunch of dudes
dressed up for war
had passed out
paper costumes
for adornment
"thrust forward
"strut in files
"be like a perfect squadron
"little sister
"guide thy way


but Cuahuitlicac has made it
to peak of mountain
there he would speak with
Huitzilopochtli (sez)
"they're coming"
(Huitzlipochtli sez) "fix
"your sights on them
"which way they
"coming" (sez)
"now 'mongst the linnets"
(sez} "now which way"
(sez) "Snake Sands"
(sez) "now which"
(sez) "Hanging Terraces"
(sez) "now"
(sez) "Mountain Slope"
(then sez) "& now"
(sez) "at the peak now
"now 400 Brothers
come sweet sister


was born that moment
lined up his gear
his shield of eagle feathers
arrowheads blue
spearheads ("turquoisedarts"
so-called) & paints
his face with
colors like the "painted child"
puts on his head a bonnet
of rare feathers
fits in earplugs (but also had
one skinny foot wore
feathered sandal on the left painted
his thighs & arms
in blue) then one
called Tochancalqui set fire to
the turquoise spears
went to give Huitzilopochtli
orders with his dart
the newborn wounds their sister
Coyolxauhqui cuts
her throat the head
's abandoned on Snake Mountain while
body goes rolling down the slope
smashes to smithereens
here & there
go hands
go feet
goes torso


now was Huitzilopochtli
swollen now was going in pursuit of
now was stalking them
would make them shimmy down would make
400 Southerners
climb the summit of
Snake Mountain (& when
he sees them all before him
when he spots them
on the slope that instant
he pursues them
stalks them like rabbits
around the mountain
four times Huitzilopochtli made them
go around it four times
pace off the circuit of Snake Mountain
would vainly try to freak him
with din of timbrels
vainly would tumble towards him
to sound of bells on ankles
& banged their shields)
they could make nothing
happen nothing
worked out now
now nothing for defense
they had were stalked by
drove them off
demolished them
destroyed them
wiped them out
did nothing so much as chase them
hard did stalk them
& they would plead with him
they'd say
"enough's enough


but Huitzilopochtli couldn't stop
with greater fire
would burn his anger at them
& pursued them
only a few escaped his presence
squirmed from his hands they headed
south (would afterwards be called
the Southerners
400 brothers gone
that one direction)
those who had fled his hand like those
he killed on whom
he gorged his anger
did strip their clothes from
he took possession of & joined
unto his office
made them the marks of what
he would become

source. English working by Jerome Rothenberg after Spanish prose version in Angel María Garibay’s Epica Nahuatl, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1945.

(1)  Going back to Nahuatl sources delivered soon after the Conquest. Huitzilopochtli himself was not only the Aztec war-god, but god of the Fifth Sun – of the era, that is, into which this world was moving, itself represented by the (hieroglyphic) sign “movement”; more specifically, according to Laurette Séjourné (Burning Water, 1956), by a movement towards liberation from contradiction & duality: "Huitzilopochtli, image of this sun, disguised as a (humming)bird & with fire as his sign, represented the soul of a combatant in the holy war."  He is also in this mode the counterpart to his sister Coyolxauhqui (above) as goddess/image of the moon.

(2) From another manuscript of Bernardino de Sahagún, the following hymn to Huitzilopochtli gathers praise names & powers, as noted/translated circa 1890 by Daniel G. Brinton (Rig Veda Americanus):

Can maceualli
Can tlacatl catca.
Quiyocoyani in yaoyotl
Ca itechpa mitoaya
Tepan quitlaza
In xiuhcoatl
Quitoznequi yaoyotl
Teoatl tlachinolli.
Auh iniquac ilhuiq'xtililoya
Tealtilaya impochteca.
Auh inic mochichiuaya:
Xiuhtotonacoche catca
Only a subject,
Only a mortal,
A magician,
A terror,
A stirrer of strife,
A deceiver,
A maker of war,
An arranger of battles,
A lord of battles;
And of him it was said
That he hurled
His flaming serpent,
His fire stick;
Which means war,
Blood and burning;
And when his festival was celebrated,
Captives were slain,
Washed slaves were slain,
The merchants washed them.
And thus he was arrayed:
With head-dress of green feathers,
Holding his serpent torch,
Girded with a belt,
Bracelets upon his arms,
Wearing turquoises,
As a master of messengers.

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