The Eye of Coquihani

The bay in Cartagena is alleged to have
Upon its muddy floor the Eye of Coquihani,
God of light of Zapotecs. The eye's alleged
To be a meter, maybe more, across, and it's
A sphere of occult power, made of pure obsidian.
I'd heard of it, but, one, it never seemed
Of too much use to me, and, two, I'd become
Old and ill. I'd have loved to visit Cartagena,
But I knew I'd never dive again. At best,
I'd sit somewhere along the water's edge,
A rum and Coke beside my breakfast,
Waiting for somebody's word that he or she
Had found the stone, and, subsequently,
Someone's summons to come in the dead
Of night, a blindfold on me, I suppose,
To judge whether the risen sphere was what
Its finders hoped it'd be, a shitty task, I told
Myself, and one not likely to end well.
Whatever was brought up out of the muck
Of Cartagena Bay would be no Eye of
Coquihani. Chances are it wouldn't even
Be made of obsidian, and, if it turned out
That it was, I'm weak on Zapotecan lore,
And skeptical of occult power. I would
Rather hector rooms of uninspired college
Students, home, marooned in Pennsylvania,
Than go south, to Cartagena, to be paid
To be drunk before noon within the savage
Heat, a man who cannot dive or dance,
A relic somehow brought to sit, to quail,
Beside the turquoise sea, for nothing.
Take my word for it. No orb is buried
In the muck. There is no Eye...

But what there is is someone named
Francesa Flores tapping on my door.
A little older than the useless creatures
In the lecture halls, she hails, she says,
From Cartagena, also from Monte Alban.
She claims to be a Zapotec, and I, divorced,
Dead down to my supposedly most precious
Parts, peer into her too-native face. It's
Brown as sugar, sweetly so, and round,
And mostly flat, except for the hook
To her nose. I almost gasp. What does
She want? She wants what I so long
Have feared: to drink beside the
Harbor's walls, to try to say conclusively
That some sphere hauled up from the
Mud is made out of obsidian, and
Possessed of such powers as can, what?,
Cause her to want to keep me? Doubtful.
Still, I can't say no. If I can lurk in
Cartagena, and I can catch glimpses
Of her flawless, full-lipped, ancient
Face, I'll play along. I'm not exactly
On the cutting edge of anything these
Days. She calls to say she's bought my ticket.
I lock up my office. I am on my way to
Something, almost certainly humiliation.
Nonetheless, I go, an aging ruin, Monte Alban
On two legs, toward the bay of Cartagena
To be flattered as a voice of some authority.
I want her by me by the water. Little else
Means much to me. The plane lands.
I search for my suitcase. She is waiting there.

There are worse ways to live than idly
By the ocean in the tropics. Swim by day.
Go out at night. The older parts of Cartagena
Ooze pastel Hispanic charm. Francesca found
A place for me, a nice hotel, and, from it,
I explored. I did so at a rapid pace, as I
Expected to be sent back home within
A week or two. The divers went out every
Day, Francesca with them. Every day, she'd
Come to visit me at dusk to say the orb
Had not been found. I'm sure I gazed at her
The way a starving man would stare at food,
But she was business-like with me. Sometimes,
We'd go to have a drink. We'd say goodnight
Out on the street. She never lingered long.
The weeks began to add up. As they did,
I slowed my former pace; more time baking
On the beach, and less exploring, longer
Afternoons in shadowed bistros with
A glass of wine.

In one such place, I got a call, Francesca,
Almost screaming, saying “We have found it!
We have found it! We are bringing it
To shore.” She told me where the boat
Would dock. I drained my glass, and
Stepped outside into the suffocating
Heat to watch the boat draw nearer.
I was not at all excited. I can't tell you
Why. Maybe I never had thought
That Coquihani's eye was real, or
Maybe I was dreading hearing
Francesca tell me goodbye. I stood
Upon the battered planks and
Caught the ropes the divers threw,
And started when Francesca
Yelped and ran to hold me in her
Arms. “We have it. You will see,”
She said, and pulled me toward
The rocking craft. The brilliant
Sun and flashing waves had made
Me blind. The boat was dark,
But, in a moment, in the sleeping
Quarters at the bow, a polished
Sphere of glass appeared, black
As night, unreal, gigantic. All
The others looked at me as
Francesca wound around the stone
To show where glyphs were carved.
“Read them, Peter. Tell me, are they
Zapotec? Is this the eye?” I said
That I would need a light, and then
I squirmed and squatted as I worked
My way around the sphere, and grew
Increasingly excited. All the glyphs
Were Zapotec, and all made clear
That they were paeans to the god of light.

They'd found it then. What should they do?
Francesca and the divers spoke in Spanish,
Which I do not know. She told me that
They worried that someone would try
To take the stone, so all were sworn
To secrecy, and pairs of divers would
Stay on the boat in shifts throughout
The night. The boat would anchor
In the bay, away from prying eyes
And hands, and all of us would come
Back in the morning to make sense
Of things: return the eye to Monte
Alban, sell it, keep it to bequeath
To some museum when we die,
And who is “we?” We all can't
Have it. Who can make the greater
Claim? Francesca and I found a bar,
And toasted our prodigious feat.
She smiled and laughed uneasily.
So much was left to be decided.
I was spent. I'd had my moment
In the spotlight. I was done. I'd
Be sent back to Pennsylvania,
Back to coops of comely co-eds.
Blonde and vapid on their bars, unwilling
To take time to separate the Mixtecs
From the Zapotecs and Olmecs, and
The Maya, and the ones who favored
Ripping beating hearts from captive
Chests to sacrifice to gods who heard
Nahuatl prayers. I slept alright. I did
Because I drank too much, and, anyway,
I had no claim upon the orb. As I said,
I was done.

The morning came, unwanted, but I rose,
And shaved, and showered, and plodded
Without inspiration toward the dock
The boat and sphere were coming to.
I saw Francesca looking haggard. I
Assumed she hadn't slept. Oh, well,
We soon would say goodbye. We went
Together down the steps to see the stone.
We reached to touch it. When we did,
The world briefly shuddered. Then,
I looked at her as both of us flew
From the boat then fell to earth
At Monte Alban, where we lived as
Royalty, observed by Coquihani's eye,
The Spanish bastards hadn't come.
The rains came as expected, and the crops
Of corn and beans were good. We
Loved. We raised eleven children.
All was well; no, more than well, but
Then one of us must have raised our
Hands and ceased to touch the stone,
And I found myself in my office
On a snowy day in Pennsylvania,
And my love was gone. I felt that
Thirty years had passed. The calendar
Said several months. It seems that
Coquihani's eye indeed had had some
Occult power. Someone's hands,
I don't know whose, had broken it,
And I was back where I'd begun,
Far from both Francesca and the stone.

Poetry by Lawrence Beck The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 82 times
Written on 2017-06-28 at 13:22

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one trick pony The PoetBay support member heart!
A genuine pleasure to read.

ken d williams The PoetBay support member heart!
Bravo, Larry!