At dawn the Indians would cross the lake,
Silent canoes appearing from the islands.
They came to sell their silver trinkets, make
Enough to buy tobacco and tequila.
The mountains fell abruptly to the shore.
Not like lake Placid or Lake Maggiore.
But still more beautiful, for each one wore
Forests of tropic trees with jewel-like foliage.
The islands led us to the central one:
A fishing village by the beach, but higher,
An empty concrete playground, where in stone
A gigantic hollow monk, clench-fisted, threatened.
Far off the not extinct volcanoes stood
Ready to reflect a frantic nation.
All went armed, and Aztec hooros could
Be ardently preferred to Christian pity.
Nearby the President’s estancia had
Its barbed-wire palisade, its guards, machine-guns,
The trivia of power which makes glad
Americans today in times of trouble.
But none of this could take away the charm
Of silver fishes - I bought one for my mother,
Nor birds of paradise, and war’s alarm
Did not disturb the beatific landscape.
At bull-fights in the capital the flags
Of France and Germany both waved together
And French and German young men shouted tags
From terrifying politicians’ speeches.
Varsavia En Llamas! and El Rey
Gorge Lancia La Guerra! - the papers
Shed inky tears ten thousand miles away;
And we suspected that we would be soldiers.
Sandford and Carter in the Philippines,
And I in England, but those things were hidden,
As driving helter-skelter by ravines
In which wrecked buses lay, we passed Morelia.
Inside a desecrated church - was it there?
Orgies of hatred spattered up towards Heaven;
Mock Michelangelo, those murals were
Signs of the painter’s furious self damnation.
The glories all were God’s in Mexico:
The marvels of the land, baroque basilicas;
At altars where no priests then dared to go
The Indians spread tapestries of petals.
Impassive and remote like Mongol chiefs,
They sold their artifacts, and kept religion
Living in their hearts instead of griefs
Which I and others like me had imprisoned.
At Guadalupe they stretched out their arms
As on a cross, and moved ahead, but only
On their knees - and so no government harms
Our Lady’s shrine throughout that persecution.
They had their martyrs, shot by bored police.
Refusing what apostate artists proffered,
They prayed and suffered; in due course a peace
Of the Church ensued; and with that peace came danger.
I wonder, do those Indians persevere
Now that the faithless last times are arriving?
Do atheist priests and bishops make them fear
As never did the tragic atheist artists?
But these are present thoughts: unthinking then
I laughed at revolutionary nonsense.
My eye was on the lake, for even when
Most unbelieving, I still valued beauty.
I have gone back at different times in thought,
Have looked across the water to the mountains.
At dawn have seen the Indians who brought
Across the lake their simple silver fishes.
August 8th, 1974