Museum in Santa Marta

In Bolivar's room the clock is stopped
At 9:05
The precise time, says a sign,
That the conqueror died.

On a chalk white wall
A clean gold sword and a poet's ode
Hang and speak always, only
At 9:05.

Every day Bolivar is dead.
At 9:05 his bed is empty
And there is no trace of the doctor
With his ear to the sinking chest,
His finger on the chilling wrist,
Remembering to draw out his watch.

But what if he had only heard
His own fading pulse? Or missed a breath,
Arriving at the wrong time,
Like a harried visitor showing up
Just as the museum closes for the night?

At 9:05 the continent is conquered.
The sun crosses borders
And casts new shadows
Over bed, sword, ode
In the room where Bolivar was stopped.

The ode repeats itself: 
Require la voz del viento
Y el pecho del mar--
Every hour, on the hour,
One needs
The voice of the wind
And the chest of the sea
To praise this liberator.

But it is still 9:05
And Bolivar has died
And the wind coughs and staggers across the land
And the moon tilts and thrusts
And drags the bare sea out
Like a corpse,
Like so much wasted skin.

Victory of the Red King

King Rhodri, challenged by the Dane,
Rode forth his title to retain
While nobles followed at his will
To thwart the treacherous foe.

To thwart the foe his nobles rode
While in the rear his poor troops strode
Shoeless, tattered, loyal still,
Foot soldiers 'gainst the foe.

Foot soldiers 'gainst the foe were they;
King Rhodri tarried in the way,
Surveyed his troops, then cried out “Halt!
Behold these peasants' feet!

“These peasants' feet do stain our road,
Dragged for miles 'neath heavy load
Their steps of blood the battle mark, 
Yet none do beg retreat.”

Yea none did beg retreat nor flew;
The king, amazed, his great sword drew;
“Hark, noblemen—this day our might
Is writ in peasant blood.

“This peasant blood doth show the way,
Nor sword nor spear will win the day,
Nor horse nor shield the foe will rout--
But this great sacrifice--

Great sacrifice, beyond all price,
Tho' hidden in a pauper's guise.”
Then king, his nobles to inspire,
Removed his own shoes.

Removed his own shoes, then held
Full forth his sword and gilded shield,
With naked feet he led his band
Of nobles high and low.

Nobles high and low went forth
To battle on the enemy turf,
And scornful Danes did point and jeer
At this, a weakened foe.

A weakened foe, or so they thought
Not knowing victory would be bought
By men emboldened by their king
Who unshod took the field.

Unshod he took the battlefield
Where scornful Dane was sure he'd yield,
Mocks and jeers, like javelins thrown,
Did meet the hero band.

But hero band did lift the sword,
The spear, the bow, and at the word
Of their dear king, with fearsome shout
They broke the enemy line.

Broke enemy line; but scornful Dane
Made one last, lasting mark of pain:
The royal steed's white flanks were smeared
With blood from Rhodri's feet.

For Rhodri's feet, in battle fierce,
Alone of all his men's were pierced;
His nobles, peasants, all could stand,
But not their sovereign lord.

And this is how the tale doth go:
That Honor honored those below.
Kingly feet, once well-prepared,
Humility caused to be bared.
Miming the lowly, the Red King gave
To every man, soul to be brave.


Suppose you didn't hear that Bill Coggers died last night.
Is that right? Just talked to him yesterday.
I asked, 'Do you still have that old flintlock?'
He'd told me it was from Napoleon's time.
Now how would he know a thing like that?

Better to die an old man in your own village
Than to fall fighting in battle.
His comrades protest:
Achilles, you will lose your soul,
You will turn our world upside down
Believing this!
Still, he tells them, better to lie down at home
Than be slain as a king robbed of spoil.

How old was Bill, about fifty?
He showed me an old coin once.
'I paid a hundred dollars for that.' Then he says,
'Do you think it's worth it?'
I said, The way I look at it, Bill,
If it's worth it to you,
It's worth it.

Odysseus rages back:
To live upright you have to shake the fist,
Plunder villages,
Take the sword!
Better to wage war far from home
Than live in peace, with just one piece of gold.
Gold coins surround like sand the man who takes a city.

Old Bill.
Used to work in that factory, remember?
Could hold a janitor job at least.
He lost it, remember,
Took his flintlock to work.
They saw it in his car and fired him.
Probably just looking for an excuse.
Big heart, though.
Used to let school kids hold his rifles.
You couldn't help liking Bill.

To be feared for your sword and bow
Makes the love of one woman sweeter,
Binds her loyalty.
Like an idiot boy breaking open a wasps' nest
Is the man who breaks that truth.
Didn't our king sacrifice his own daughter
To gain fair winds to Troy?
To the field, to the field, before the bed!

Bert Doty felt sorry for him,
Knew he didn't mean anything by that gun.
So he paid Bill to drive him to a restaurant now and then.
Bill didn't mind just waiting.
At least no one thought he minded.
So that was it? Just last night you say?
Just last night. Just heard about it. Found him in a field face down.
Old Bill. Never did much,
But wouldn't hurt a fly. Want to grab coffee?
No, wife's waiting at home

I am the man of twists and turnings
Who outwits the gods
Seduces princesses
Entrances with my tales.
For what is a man without a great story?
More useless than a rusting sword.
Forever they will sing of Odysseus,
Who held the world upright
Fighting to his death.