Home > Poetry > Ihuatzio, Mexico
Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Ihuatzio, Mexico

Tarascan Sub-capital

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 and voluntary organization, working in and visiting more than 160 countries. In 1966 in Kenya, Mr. Oerke started microcredit programs for small enterprise in poverty; later, he initiated microcredit programs in more than sixty nations around the world. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, AGNI online, The New Republic, Poetry, and in many other publications in the U.S., England, France, Germany, Lebanon, Kenya, the Philippines, and elsewhere. In 2003, he was given the award for literature by the U.N. Society of Writers and Artists. His collection San Miguel De Allende (Swan Books, 2005) won the 2006 Peace Corps Writers Award. He spent time in Haiti in 2010, coordinating medical assistance for earthquake victims. (updated 12/2012)

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