After the Incas

The hatunruna‘s* still-life
is silent jungle-deep
and just around the mountain-side
from this articulated railway
that slowly climbs to Machu Pichu
bearing its inveterate load
of touristes imperialismos
who have always climbed mountains
because they’re there

and when they read you had
no horses, cows, or pigs
they are surprised
and think you vegetarian
no wheels to travel over
no glass through which to view
the absent arch they frown
and hope you not uncivilized
but when they learn you tied
your ropes in knots
to keep the score
and could not write your names
they smile relieved and point
to Machu Pichu where
three thousand Indians once died
beneath a single rock

and sagely nod
at this deciphered rune
the length of rope involved
and ultimate X
(forged face of gods)
true signature in stone


* the common people

Questions and Answers

What inspired “After the Incas”?

I had read about the greatness of Incan civilization and its dependence on slaves when I was younger, and then many years later read an article about Macchu Picchu, and tourism there. The two stages of my knowledge came together in the poem.

What poetic techniques did you use in “After the Incas”?

It’s a free verse poem grounded in images of the real that become metaphors for the disconnection between then and now/us and them.

This poem “After the Incas” originally appeared in Nationalism. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 75 (Winter 1977): 52.

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