In the Shadow of the Condor
IN THE SHADOW OF THE CONDOR
Myths are the wings of humanity; memories our plumage; and shadows are our talons.
I. Heights of Magic
The ghosts of Machu Picchu form the clouds
which drift like snow across the mountaintops.
They glide within the silken mist that shrouds
the road in threads of gray where gravel drops
to nothingness along the outer ledge.
Above, the stones are laid in lichened lines
and squared to fit together edge to edge
without the need for mortar in their splines.
The spirits of the Incas swell the sky
with rusty rumblings, an avalanche,
so pebbles, dust, and memories fly by.
A crooked condor settles on a branch.
He tilts his head to fix an evil eye
on specters in the shadow-realms on high.
II. Condor Passes
We bow before our emperor, lord Sun,
awaiting messages the condor brings
to those who dance until the day is done.
He pulls the twilight home behind his wings
to one who supplicates, who chants and sings,
to two who sculpt their prayers in works of bronze,
to three who char their sacred offerings
of llamas slain to guarantee more dawns.
We carve and haul these rocks to fortify
our homes, and build up temples that will show
the Sun is still the ruler of the sky
who shares the light of life with friend and foe.
Our city of the sun will never die
as long as Incas pray and condors fly.
The earth has shown displeasure with her friends
by shaking us off mountains, fields, and hills.
The fault is ours, and we must make amends
to bind her wounds and remedy her ills.
The time has come again for sacrifice,
the purity and sanctity of blood
which cleanses as it heals and should suffice
to halt the quakes and stop the slide of mud.
We gather girls, as beautiful as stars,
a constellation brighter than the dawn,
and catch their blood in decorated jars
then feed it to the earth to feast upon.
The earth will swallow blood instead of bones
and give us leave to build our walls with stones.
IV. The Shape of Wishes
I bind the board to shape my daughter's skull
as pointed as a mountain's sacred crest,
for parents want their children beautiful
and those who look like gods are truly blessed.
I pray that she is chosen by the priests
as one to give her life in sacrifice.
How we would honor her with songs and feasts
before we placed her body in the ice.
The waters of the river flow like prayer,
the stones below the currents shift like dreams,
and hummingbirds are whirring through the air
like rainbows caught inside transparent streams.
My wishes for my daughter float like seeds.
May she inherit all the grace she needs.
The mummies of our ancestors are dressed
in raiment of the finest weave and hue.
For those who walked before, we serve the best
potatoes, maize, and meat, the choicest brew.
We seat them at our tables when we dine
and carry them outdoors to let them feel
the rays of sun, as strong as coca wine,
the outstretched arms of light that hold and heal.
Then every day, we ask these oracles
for guidance—when to till, or sow, or reap,
and when to wall the highest pinnacles,
and when to wake the dead or let them sleep.
The spirits of our relatives who died
reveal old truths the mountains seek to hide.
VI. Spirits of Stone
Our wizards pull the future from the sky
the way you'd pull a feather from a nest.
The brightness of the stars, and how they lie
foretells which souls the gods have cursed or blessed,
if next year brings abundant rain, or drought
before the summer solstice warms the days,
if crops will fail to thrive, if seeds will sprout,
and when to till the fields, or plant the maize.
When Father Sun is slumbering at night,
the mountain gods are keeping us from harm.
We ask our Mother Moon to share her light
and spill her spells of love which trance and charm.
The spirits of each stick and star and stone
watch over us, so we are not alone.
VII. Winter Solstice
The longest night has come, midwinter dreams.
The shamans spread their leaves upon the earth
to read the signs and portents, so it seems
the sun will rise again and bring rebirth.
Then serpents leave their caves, the birds take wing,
and crystal skulls illuminate their altars,
while waves of magic light up everything
and shadow paths are lost as darkness falters.
The time has come for death to evil thoughts,
for we must live as children of the light.
When darkness dwells within, a person rots
as surely as potatoes spoil with blight.
We now rededicate our lives to one
who brings the light to life, our father sun.
The pendants in our ears are made of gold,
all hammered from the drops of sweat which spilled
to earth as gifts most wondrous to behold,
as blessings from our lord the sun to gild
and ornament ourselves and deck our homes.
And he has given emeralds and beads
of jade as well as feathers for our combs.
He scatters rubies every time he bleeds.
But far more valuable than things that gleam,
our father sun has sent us from the ocean
conch shells white as sand, which we esteem
more precious than a magic charm or potion.
The constant, warm embrace of sunlight streams
to hold us fast and brighten all our dreams.
IX. Casting out Evil
The moon sheds silver tears; the god of rain
is pouring showers off the Milky Way
(which used to be his shadow). This domain
extends across the sky, a starry spray.
The opal moon is wife to father sun.
She watches over us and keeps us all
from peril when the work of day is done.
I weep with moon and rain this evenfall.
For many days my father has been ill,
refusing now to pray to moon or sun.
He wanders past the fields he used to till.
I've carved this blade of sharp obsidian.
The priests will cut three holes inside his skull,
cast out his curse, and make a miracle.
X. Anaconda Dreams
The sun calls out to earth and earth replies.
The moon calls out to water on the earth
and billows in the ocean fall and rise.
The serpent of fertility and birth,
silent goddess of the underworld,
slithers downward faster than a dream.
Opalescent butterflies are swirled
in wind like petals dappling a stream.
The land is sacred; dreams are sacred, too.
And you and I are sacred in this place,
along with clouds and mist, and rain and dew,
all things that disappear without a trace.
The serpent goddess sinks into her cave
as you and I must slip into the grave.
XI. Web of Blessings
The sacred places hum beneath our feet
and pull us toward their holiness the way
a stone must roll downhill, or raindrops meet
their cousins where the river waters sway.
A mountaintop, a graven gorge, a cave,
a rainbow scratching color from the sky,
a face in stone, or groves of trees that wave
their limbs aloft—these places sanctify.
Don't steal, don't lie, don't lead a lazy life,
then you will live in health and hallowed peace,
advice for child and parent, husband, wife,
for thee and thine: may happiness increase.
For sacred regions soothe instead of rasp
the souls they hold like moonbeams in their grasp.
XII. Silent Vessel
The children of the mountains sing no more.
The pipes are stilled, the drums of skin are lost,
bare feet that tapped out rhythms on the floor
no longer dance, and jaguars' jawbones tossed
away no longer growl, while silver bells
are gone, with flutes of bone, and flutes of clay
shaped like animals, as well as shells
that howled like summer storms when we would play.
The only music left—the purring breeze,
the whir of wind, the clicking of the rain,
the whizz of hummingbirds, the buzz of bees,
the crack of ice in sun as the gods complain.
For only ghosts of Incas roam the sky.
Above the silent stones, the condors fly.