Void and Compensation (Tenochtitlán)
She wanted to know where he was;
how he spent his time, which horses held
up better in the foreign climate.
And did he think of her at all when seeing
fabulous wildflowers or local women.
The breath from his cartographer’s assistants
cannot dry the maps as quickly as he’d like.
He’d like to send one home, a keepsake.
He’d like to remember this city before
his torch-bearing men tear it down.
If faith can lay a kingdom to waste
then he’ll need perpetuity forthwith,
more than her voice inside his reliquary head.
The question that she’s asking is his own:
what city will we build on what we’ve razed?
Of change, maps offer mute testimony;
the maiden and the married names appear
intaglio above the doorbell Cortés.
Affirmer of dominions, it hardly rings,
a maquette of emergent silence.
Cartography can’t tell him where he’s going,
only what he saw and was, a moment of his knowing.
And since his tense is always changing or has changed
(a reminder, a memory, a casualty of mastery),
a province where he’s never been might better claim him.
What cities will we build on homes we’ve razed?
Cartographers, make haste—of present tense
please make for him an archive of his holdings;
To build a city on the former’s cooling ashes
requires the hardest kind of hindsight: love.