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From The Alamo, by Michael Lind

From Book I

March 09, 1997

Confusion. All around is churning smoke,

a supernova's planet-flensing shroud,

an embryonic solar system's yolk.

No shapes, but for the shadows in the cloud

that swell and sway and pulsate to the loud

oceanic throb, a thunder to convulse

a cosmos, the percussion of a pulse.

*

The fog unravels. But this is no fog,

this blear amalgam of a scumbled dust

and stinging fumes. An isolated leg,

wrapped like a maize ear in a tattered husk

of trouser cotton, glows in noonday dusk.

A headless soldier bows; the freckling paint

has made his gulping pal a stigmaed saint.

*

Across the fuming field, the dying stir

among the dead. Their moaning and their throes

alert the splendid cavalry, who spur

their horses and parade amid their foes.

Wielding their spears as bargemen would use

their staffs to lever flatboats, lancers pole

from man to man and spare no pleading soul.

*

Beyond, more butchery. The rebel town

is bleeding streams of black into the skies,

the way a seal, when sharks have dragged it down,

will stain a turquoise current as it dies.

Across the splintered barricades with cries

of "Death to traitors!" grimy conscripts vault.

The breastworks tumble under their assault.

*

With bayonets, daggers, and naked hands,

the stormers hack and chop and stab and slash.

The slow notes of Deguello from the band's

emplacement drone through cannon croak and crash;

the melody that Spain learned in its clash

with Muslim arms, "No Quarter," starts to swell

as Zacatecas is annexed by hell.

From Book VI

And: "Viva el Presidente!" From his mare,

the lord of half the continent surveyed

his legions, felt the chorus shake the air.

Once more he scanned his soldiery, he weighed

the strength of each battalion, each brigade;

at length, his voice echoing, he addressed

his thousands, the Napoleon of the West:

*

"Soldiers of Mexico! The battlefield

of Texas lies before you. Pray no more;

by your own strength your fate will be revealed,

my destiny as well--for you, my corps,

will determine whether ages will deplore

the name of Santa Anna or revere

that proxy for the names of you men here.

*

"My own desire is merely to retire,

to don a rancher's mantle, hang my sword;

but so long as the foreigners conspire

to steal our patrimony I will ford

whatever river, strike whatever horde,

not from ambition--mine's a kindly fate,

I've got my land--I fight for your estate.

*

"Each one of you shall win his rightful share

of country you will scrape clean with the blade;

the farms the gringo settlers make their lair

shall soon be yours, for joining this crusade.

Your title shall be yanqui rebels laid

within the land they thought to make their own;

they'll die a second time, when your plows break the bone.

From Book IX

Now Travis gave the order: "Fire at will!"

Along the north facade a dozen bores

erupted. Each cry recorded a kill

or mauling in the moving dark. The force

continued to advance, without remorse

for comrades who had fallen. But the first

reply from the Alamo was not the worst.

*

A lifeless comet's coal begins to wake

still distant from the sun. Its cinder crust,

though long since petrified, begins to quake

and fissure. All at once, a fan of dust

spurts geysering; then others feed the gust

that veils the crumbling lump in atmosphere.

The halo, the translucent wake, appear.

*

As suddenly, the Alamo exploded.

The cannon on the northern wall spewed out

tornado flame and thunder and corroded

scrap metal that streaked through the shrieking crowd

of infantry. The courage that endowed

the bravest melted in that hellish hail

of superheated horseshoe, pellet, nail.

From Book XII

The conqueror removed his plumed crescent,

a gesture imitated all around

by men who watched their master, grown quiescent,

study his foe awhile without a sound.

Then General Santa Anna faintly frowned.

"At last, Guillermo Travis. Why, you are

so young, to have begun so great a war."

*

"This man," he told his aides, "headed the list

I gave these towns last fall. Had they obeyed,

a firing squad might have averted this

catastrophe. By God, this young man made

himself a costly prize. The price we've paid. . ."

The self-described Napoleon of the West

reflected, then said, "Burn him with the rest."

*

Troops lugged the corpse of Travis to a cart,

like fishmongers tossing a silver plank

atop the staring layers in a mart.

Beneath the latest weight the wagon sank,

laden with two armies and every rank.

The wheels protested, then the makeshift hearse

rolled forth, the only obsequy a curse.

*

"The fort's to be destroyed?" Almonte asked

his master. In the stadium of the siege

Santa Anna stood, an actor who has basked

in warm ovations all alone onstage.

"We'll leave it to inspire a later age.

As long as Mexicans retell the story

of the Alamo, none shall forget our glory."

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