This poem came out of the April 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from kelkyag and moonwolf1988. It also fills the "bodyswap" square on my card for the Trope Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This is the first poem in the new series Los Conquistados.
When Francisco Vásquez de Coronado
came to the Mayan lands, he heard tell
of the Cíbola, the Seven Cities of Gold.
Because he was an adventurer and not an architect
it did not occur to him how monumental an accomplishment
it would be to make a city out of such soft heavy stuff.
He thought only of the wealth and not the wisdom,
the brilliance of metal and not of the mind.
Neither did he pay any heed
to the carvings of jade and gold,
thick with the captured magic of blood.
His belief was not required
in order for these things to work,
and Spain never heard from him again.
When Hernán Cortés arrived in Aztec territory,
he heard the myths of Quetzalcoatl
and set off in hopes of plundering
the god's gems and precious metals.
He ignored the legends
in which the feathered serpent
walked in the shape of a man from the west.
The priests stretched the explorer
over an altar and flayed the skin from his body.
Then Quetzalcoatl slipped out of his serpent-skin
and draped it over the screaming foreigner,
turning him into a monster.
The god put on the man's fresh skin
and became a man himself,
holding out his arms for the priests
to adorn with sumptuous jewelry.
Thus Quetzalcoatl met with the emissaries of Spain
and they were none the wiser.
When Francisco Pizarro reached the Incan Empire
he asked after rooms full of silver and gold,
palaces on the mountainside with stupendous views.
Always a poor student in school,
he thought little of the quipucamayocs
with their thread and their knots,
knew nothing of cosmic strings.
He had no way to know
that the riches were not of this world,
drawn hither through the gap
that separates science from magic.
The quipucamayocs said nothing,
merely cut and restored their strings,
sending the invader and his men
and leaving Spain, once again,
oblivious to what had passed.
* * *
The series title Los Conquistados means The Conquered. Special thanks to the folks who joined the discussion on LiveJournal and on Dreamwidth to help work that out.
The poem's title comes from the phrase "No todo lo que brilla es oro," meaning "Not all that glitters is gold."
Read about Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and the Cities of Gold.
Read about Hernán Cortés and Quetzalcoatl.
Read about Francisco Pizarro and the system of quipu. A quipucamayoc is a master of knot-based recordkeeping.