Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The St. Columbus Day Massacre

One of these days I'll get around to sourcing all these claims…

Zarco the blue-eyed from Cuba, half noble, half Jew
Set sail in 1492 on the day that Spain expelled its Jews
In the service of the Portuguese king, who looked South
To beat the Byzantine middle-man for pepper and clove
Via Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. They called him Colom
And sent him to Madrid, the home of freshly united Spain,
The throne of Isabella and Ferdinand, who at the moment were too busy
Slaughtering the last Moorish to know a New World had been found.
So he pitched a smaller globe, offered China and its gold
For soon-to-be-unemployed conquistadoros – for new crusades
To retake the holy lands and grains of Egypt.
It was all a clever ruse, a way to buy time for De Gama
And the crews who'd seen Brazilian shores before.

Ah, but before we can get to the petunias and cashews,
The pineapples and bananas, the hammocks and canoes,
The squash and cassava melons, the hurricanes and barbecues,
There was the matter of selling the lie:
That due West was the way to the East—what moron would believe this?
What Queen, even, would see the sad aborigine pelts as the equal of
Chinese silks?
But that was the game he was playing, Zarco the spy, plying the waters
Of the Northern climes, trying to line the demarcation 'tween the rich
Southlands for Portugal, with their open waterways, and the land-locked
Trap of the North, where the savages were souls to save or be enslaved,
At the pleasure of the Queen, who kept sending the slaves he brought
To her back, for she knew it was better to die than be a hostage,
They only differed in their concept of heaven – the Taino wanted no part
Of a Paradise full of Spaniards, and resisted the Christian conscription,
As those who across the ocean resisted the salvation of Ferdinand's
Inquisition; but the natives obtained their revenge: syphilis killed
More Europeans than torture and smallpox killed them.

But first there was the matter of keeping the stratagem hidden
—How to spin, on that first voyage, a garden of Adam and Eves?
Zarco sailed back through the Azores, to land in Lisbon
And strategize with his King once more.
The Queen would be properly skeptical, but she hadn't yet foreseen
The power of the printing press, for a pamphlet had gone up
Through the capitals of Europe: new worlds discovered and priceless
Treasures unearthed by a Genoese woolthreader named Columbus
(Proving that even press releases haven't gotten much more accurate
In the intervening 500 years). And so she was coerced
Against her will to be the empress of the mind of California,
And she sent him off again, this time with idle armies, as mercenaries
For gold, to strip the larder land for the greater good of Portugal
(How could they have known, of the Mayan pyramids, the Aztec
Wheels of gold – the legends that spoke of the white men returning
Who built these palaces and tombs out of their minds?)

But in the meantime there were pretenses to create:
Tobacco and cocoa instead of opium and hashish,
Potatoes and tomatoes to replace frankincense and myrrh,
Paprika and chili peppers as substitutes for India's spices,
That's the power of the lie, as well as mass extermination
So the traders on the horn could import good old slaves from Africa
To work the mines and the plantations (and get for themselves a little
Cut of King John's grace on the side). He fucked it up
On purpose, traveled back to Spain in manacles,
Endured like Christ the insurrections, imprisonments, rip-offs,
For he was in that world, but not of it.

So the Treaty of Tordesillas was papal-bull decreed, dividing up the world
North and South between Iberian spheres. King Henry (Seventh of
England), not one to shirk from power plays, sent a chap from Genoa,
Rechristened as John Cabot, to lay claim on a great continent,
For the land his son made Protestant, for the pleasure of the King,
Not a farthing more for that evil Pope who would take those souls away
—But a land of plenty—fit for poetry and foxes in his Majesty's preserves.
With all those princely trappings, who could ever have believed
That God would change his address, just pack it up and leave
The wars of creed for a little spit of peace?
The Spanish have a word for it: duende.