If it were not woven from the bluegreen
feathers of the quetzal, the sun
would at once plummet from the sky.
If his earplugs were not the hard shell
of the June beetle, a hundred stars would descend
to devour his people’s cornseed.
By summer a child would be born
with webbed feet, carrying eggs in her throat.
Disaster strains against
each movement of the dance. If his sandals
broke at the thong, if his utterance were careless,
if his blade did not pass this warrior’s ribs…
But lately he has given less
thought to these things. Instead he dwells
on the jaguar caught in a snare
eaten alive by driver ants, or what he heard
a priest had done to the young daughter
of a merchant under the Huei Teocalli.
These are not like the sun falling. No ritual
protects against cruelty, against
the ordinary world – this is what he thinks
when he dons the headdress now, and hears
the many thoughts of the gods
clatter amid the alabaster and snail shells.
One says to him, your hands smell different
than when you were a young man.
You are growing old.
Another says, perhaps you will have
your third wife tonight, did she not look beautiful
naked in the dawn light, as you hurried
to meet your dance instructor?
One god declines to speak, but projects images
from years ago, reeds beside
the cool water, a heron fishing, priests
selecting reeds by whipping the air,
cool water startling his face.
He will have to interpret these messages,
later. At home. For now he must reach
the end of the song, when he can release
the warmth of the sun from this warrior’s heart,
spangled on the eagle stone, exhausted –
even though he has begun to think
that the body is not something you have,
but what you are. That he himself
is such a body.