15 June, 2006Issue 5.2Creative WritingOriginal Poetry

Email This Article Print This Article

The State of the Union

Gerald Ng

Standing in Chiapas
amidst the trees by a bend
in the Usumacinta River,

at the foot of Structure 33,
that sits atop a hill,
denuded perhaps of a dome
but not of mildew,
you can almost hear the voices
seeping through the walls

and the carved reliefs
of the game being played.
You can almost hear them say:
‘We couldn’t see it,
what the King could see.
But we believe it.

We were told.
We were told of the string
that ran through a hole
which was pierced in the Lady’s tongue,
how the blood dripped thick
from the Lady’s tongue,

how the blood dripped thick
onto paper,
how the paper was burned,
and how it yielded smoke
from which the Vision Serpent came.
The Vision Serpent

counselled war.
The Vision Serpent said,
“Be merciless.”
And when the Vision Serpent
disappeared, the King
had decided on war.’

They may have called Yaxchil√°n
the Place of the Split Sky.
You wonder who did the splitting
and when. Was it
in the beginning
or closer to the end?

The voices you almost hear say:
‘We have won now many victories.
We have taken many prisoners.
We keep them in cells beneath our pyramids.
We have sacrificed all year.
From Chichén Itz√° to Cop√°n,

from Palenque to Tikal,
the state of the union is strong.
We have sowed the seeds
that will yield us plenty.
We have tamed the wilful jungle.
Our smoke will billow

from the apex of a thousand pyramids,
a smoke made pungent
by the blood of our prisoners,
and our sons will play the ballgame,
though they’ll never know Xibalba.
The King has promised this.

And the state of the union is strong.’
Then the voices fade.
You think you hear them say,
‘We have had to sacrifice our children.
We have executed minors,’
but you’re not quite sure –
you don’t understand their tongue –

and at any rate,
you’ve heard enough
to curl your lips
into a smile.

Because, after all,
the state of the Union is strong.