Skip to content
Give readers a window on the world. Click to donate.
from the January 2012 issue

The Eagle

I only learn to be content.
—Shogun Tokugawa
For Brisa Tinoco 
and those who have emailed asking 
if it’s true an old eagle 
sits alone on the mountaintop, 
tearing out its plumage, 
removing its beak and talons, 
to be reborn 
and live another thirty years
as a seer.
You see that creature with
the two-meter-long beard 
suckling at the breast 
of the ancient woman 
who gave birth to him 
during an eclipse?  
Look at that guy in chains.
A white-haired madman
Spitting on the floor tiles.
You’re always naked.  When you were little,
The pirates warn you 
not to look inside the trunk
but you open it
                                      —I don’t know what you see inside—
But from that time on 
you rant
at people only you can see . . .
                                      (You gaze like an eagle)
Breasts begin to bud and pubic hairs.
One wears her first indigo dye sarong.
Blue buttocks!  Bruises, domestic violence,
Swollen blue-black cadavers.
A mother at the morgue,
Her hand severed by a machete.
                                    (You see all.)
You don’t want to look at your dead mother.
You close your eyes so as not to see
How the cadavers hang from a kapok tree.
Dark breasts exposed to the sun, children still
Tied to their backs. 
Black flies! Starving dogs!
Widowers, Daughters in shawls. 
A granddaughter is born
And a patriarch dies.
How does a two-hundred-year-old man 
Paint with a golden root?
Search the common grave.
A shaman carves his violin on the branch of a strawberry tree.
Look: red corn, black corn, yellow and white.
Ribbons fly in the wind.
Coiled lanceheads.
Quetzals in the cloudforest.
                                       (Eagle soars on high)
The tornado blows off the roof!  Sit the dead man in a chair!
An armadillo-shaped bench.  Altars with stalactites.
The mother of treasure, I see the mother of ice,
The stepmother of bad government,
Paternalism . . .
Climb up on high while I play the flute.
                                      (You are clairvoyant . . . standing on a stone
                                      Your hair let loose beneath a full moon.)
Do you see tunnels where they offer up feathers to the ancestors?
The babe tied to a chair sucks on burnt bread.
In Sakam Ch’en de los Pobres
Students kill themselves with Gramoxone.
See those small coffins?
Elementary school number seven after the earthquake.
The trapped in Haiti . . .
                                      (How to extract life from rubble?)
There are guerillas who kill for love.
They blow up bridges and set the gin afire!
The consumer-vultures nourish themselves with our hunger.
                                      With your eyes closed, you see the mortars fall.
You never saw Walter again.
Or your buddy who lost his sight
And takes photos at the bonfire on New Year’s.
Shows them to you and asks 
If dogs eat human crap . . .
Latrines hang above the filth . . . Black rivers
Where cadavers float.  Volcanoes
For torture victims.  Gagged forensics.  Lawyers 
Their mouths sealed forever.
Don’t you see it’s very dangerous to be a reporter?
Very dangerous to tell the truth
About pederasts,
                                       (A conscience can be sold like water.)
Common sense drowns
In the well where pexi cola profits off our thirst.
See the little caca cola Christmas tree in front of your cathedral?
                                       (Look in a mirror)
See the mill extracting the liquor from sugar cane? The oval barrels
Are tied onto the back of a horse named Canelo.
See Mol Komate and Me Abrila?
Mica before the falling ash?
Your dear friends.
Dead in the street!
Dead from drink, from shock, from grief.
Look at Willy, Erasto, Garduño.
Cabeza de Toro and the herons
The poet in Boca del Cielo.  Fishermen at a wake.
Bricklayers in the marigold fields.
You see mongrels, beaten
In Xelajú: Mud up to your knees
Your face black from slash and burn.
How many mothers
Lose their sons?
Abandon their children
In the Terminal
Where the blind sing
Radio lullabies? 
                                         (Sun or eagle [heads or tails]?)
Chemical and medical products
Whose sale is prohibited by law.
Expired vaccinations, blood traffickers…
Hearts and livers for sale.
The serpent and the cat fight over a rat…
Roadblocks where torture victims cry out
your sister’s name.
Sacrifices. Altars. Synagogues. Minarets. Power
Horizontal and vertical.  
Voter fraud, the tombs of those shot down
By government assassins.
                                         (In the newspaper there are cadavers.)
In Atenco: girls and mothers raped.
                                         (Smear mud on your head and face
                                         So the soldiers don’t rape you).
It’s legal to rape your wife.
You can also kill civilians.
Three million in the Congo.
Our elected representatives turn a blind eye.  Do you hear
Comandanta Esther?
Fidel on the first anniversary.
A new dawn in Nicaragua
And in El Salvador.  See the miles and miles of shantytowns in Tegucigalpa,
The slums of Nashville, Tent City in Sacramento and Athens.
The armored tanks in Monimbó and in Oaxaca . . .
                                        What a landmine can do to a child!
In front of the Prosthetics Outlet
In Managua,
Barefoot children
In the street
Watch us eat
Through the window 
Of a Chinese restaurant.
When you finish your fortune cookie,
The children rush to eat your bones.
             The Safeway in Oakland has fifty meters of different kinds of cereal
For breakfast and fifty homeless waiting outside with the supermarket carts
Where they store their rags.
Look at the gypsies
In a circus so poor
The lion tamer
Performs with a stray dog.
                                       (You don’t watch TV.)
See the cortex of a fig bush?
How they pound it with stones and blood
To create leaves of paper . . . Did you see the Rainforest
When it still had trees?
The moon turns red
as we burn it down.
                                       (On many tables
You see only tortillas and salt.)
So many dead!
Fifty thousand murdered in five years.
Two hundred thousand during the civil war.
                                       Three million in Cambodia.
Wash the cadaver!
Seat him on a chair
And carry him to the holy ground
On a tumpline
Walking the whole way!
You burn the deceased’s clothing
And cry,
You sing
And for a while
You laugh
                                        (Mayans in New York City)
The coffin where the widow doesn’t find her husband,
But some other guy killed by Border Patrol.
Long lines outside the embassy.
Clearly, it’s impossible to get a visa.
One million Mayans in Los Estados.
How many never marry because there aren’t any men left in the village?
                                        (Women travel in the trunk of the car.)
Watch the Indians step down off the sidewalk. 
To make room for the tourists!
You mend a pot by melting a nylon bag.
Houses of liana and thatch . . . no nails or cement.
Look how they kill the cock and offer him to the owner of Earth.
                                       (You’ll have caterpillar tacos for supper.)
You’ll learn to sleep on the ground and wake at dawn 
In markets where they don’t use money.
                                       (Buddha in a Santa suit.)
A monk sings sutras on the metro.
Look at the faceless.  Listen to the voiceless:
I repair gourds . . . knickknacks,
Flip-flops and sandals . . .
We trade our new mattress for your old one . . . 
Cans, cans, cans. . . (a knife-sharpener whistles.)
                                       (The reincarnation of the Eagle.)
The buzzards are renewed.
Macaws!  Toucans!
Hundreds of parrots in the ravine, thousands of swallows
Flying spirals in unison, a funnel cloud
Before hiding in the ruins of Toniná.
Fifty shooting stars!
Tornados . . . waterspouts . . .!
Dead shoppers at the Ocosingo market.
                                         (Who prohibits keeping the Seed of our Ancestors?)
Girls of thirty are already grandmothers waiting for money at the telegraph office.
How do the ones with fifteen children survive?
Loan sharks charge thirty percent a month!
                                         (Eagles don’t hunt flies.)
A woman offers lollipops to the baby pigeons
And cries when they don’t want to sit on her shoulder.
                                         (Eagle atop a cactus.)
Blown by the wind, the curtains
Of an open window form a cornucopia.
Do you own more than you can carry?
                                        (Serpent in the Eagle’s Mouth)
Do you hear the music of Chac Mol?
A hot waterfall
Is Paradise.
The rainbow is a bad omen.
Woman of White Earth
In the salt well.
On the beach a multitude
Pulls together
On the enormous net full of jumping fish
Like silver flames.
Old women, children, neighbors, all singing:
Catfish caught at dawn
Is a fisherman’s favorite supper.
(Is your eagle’s dotage better than the sparrow’s youth?)
A girl treads on a crab in the dawn’s light
On a beach newly abandoned by the sea.
Her head covered with a silken shawl
Scolding the storm.
The girl shakes the jute bag.
A new continent emerges from the ocean.
                                      (Dream you can fly?)
The sky is paved in stone.
Your finger points to a line in the open book.
You will write with smoke,
With a bulldozer.
Read the clouds.
Snooze in the shadow of a maguey
carved by graffiti artists.
The raft
in Xochimilco
Bears your name.
The glass-bottom boat
Reveals the wonders of the infra world.
                                        (a serenade)
First the boy friend paints his beloved’s house,
He closes the street, puts out chairs, tables . . . long white tablecloths.
Waiters serve Champagne.
The marimba orchestra appears.
A grand piano on a donkey cart.
A fat lady with her parasol,
Sitting on a throne carried by a tumpline.
A visionary takes the microphone.
Mayan hexes are made known.
                                          (Two Chinese speak their language in Mexico City.)
In Switzerland 
Architecture is banned.
Antimigration barbed wire.
Eight-hundred-kilometer wall.
                                          (The littlest ones sleep under small Christmas trees from the dump.)
“That one’s female” shouts the little brother,
Pointing to the robin
In a sycamore my grandfather planted.
The skinny girl is embarrassed putting on your underpants.
The jerry-built sailboat rounds Cape Gracias a Dios.
They bear the Mother of Us All.
                                       A child sleeps in the meadow, embracing a wild foal.
Blondes dressed as apaches file through the passageway.
Emigrants lose limbs to the train tracks.
The clown receives death threats.
Following the orders of his parasites, 
A cricket dives into the puddle.
Pheasants scratch the earth for their chicks.
Your astrologist polishes blue jade.
A seer blesses the marriage.
She takes her guerilla lover 
On vacation.
A soldier carries firewood in her shawl.
Shipwreck on the isle along the coast.
                                       (Who survives the pandemic?)
There aren’t enough vaccinations for everyone.
How much is your thirst worth?
                                       (Basalt formations rise above an abyss.)
On the peak, in a niche, an eagle.
I haven’t cut my hair since 1978.
Summer of ’67: San Pancho.
A very conservative woman
Is confronted by a hippie.
Corner of Haight and Ashbury 2009:
An Olivetti on a card table.
                                       His hand-written sign: Poet for Hire.
Glassblowers create stemware with their breath.
Petals wash down the street, fireworks and dance.
The alchemist conducts experiments with his student.
They dye the cat pink.
A drunken chicken
Flaps around, trying to fly.
Building its nest, 
The bird becomes tangled in string…
Slowly it’s strangled…
Its mate
The knot
Of liberty.
                                          (Eagle soars on high.)
The dead poet leaves a sealed letter
For his wife who can’t read.
                                          (The male’s pen and the female’s.)
Green crosses dominate the landscape.  
Children of every race 
And culture play with mud.
Some men have more
Women than others.
The harpy eagle, she lives alone
Grown old
In a zoo…
                                          (you begin to dash your beak against the rocks)
A volcano erupts and rains debris.
Do sunsets compete with each other?
                                          (A dragonfly shows off the beauty of its wings.)
The ancient abbess illuminates each icon with a candle.
You will see a pyramid of skulls.
Waves are proof of the power
Of air over water.
The wind holds back.
The waves become so calm
The surface of the sea
Becomes a mirror
Reflecting the clouds
In constant
                                          (A seer looks from afar, through the country of dreams.)
After a storm, the past dissolves.
A peacock celebrates the dawn.
A black moth
Brings news of death.
The image of an autumn leaf
Reveals mysteries.
                                         (An eagle and a white dove exchange naguals.)
They inseminate their own spirits.
Young girls carry lit torches.
To roof the house,
Lends a hand
In the refugee
Children play with mountains of sand.
The parrot repeats.
The mutilated return home.
                                        The immigrants spend the night in the desert.
A military band accompanies the funeral cortege.
The Pachamama bestows life on those dressed as dead children.
War veterans gather to share memories.
Chess tournaments in the Sarajevo cemetery.
In Xela the ball game is born.
                                        (In the Earth’s womb the elements are fertilized.)
A lamp shaped like a human cadaver.
A small donkey on the plateau.
In the north they harvest ice
From a pond . . .
Water: bless us with snow in your summer . . .
                                        (A blue jay rests on a stile.)
A fat little man rides a broomstick horse.
A covered bridge
Across the gully.  A thin girl
mows her grassy fields.
The magician blesses the faithful.
Your tyrants ask for tribute.
Guerillas ambush their own brothers.
War Reports.
                                      The voice of a Sun is heard.
Birds sing in their cages.
An angel carries a small marimba.  The hummingbird
Sips Poinsettia nectar.
You, my fire-eater:
How will you pay
For a transplant?
                                         (In the hospice there are no toys.)
A four-year-old girl carries the gunny sack.
At the horse races the birds are plucked by devils.
They paint their faces black and argue
With a dead turkey.
Hail covers the road to the ranch.
A council of elders honors the efforts of a young man.
Tibetan monks bless your business.
                                         (The scorpion becomes an Eagle.)
Sticks and stones come of their own force.
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
A moth will emerge from its chrysalis.
Traffic jams on the isthmus.
A bazaar and a parade.
Girls will play rattles.
The pilot flies with hobbled mules
And petrified thrones.
In the sanctuary
A medium will invoke silence.
                                      (Light breaks.)
Has the hour come
to follow
Colors through a prism?
Who is the Mother of Us All?
                                        (There are days when I see no one.)
I don’t see Montebello in flames or the poles melting.
I don’t see any jobs anywhere.
Children sell gum at midnight when the mutts 
Sleep curled like snails in the devil’s streets.
You can’t look at the herbicide
Without protection.
Or the syringes that the owner of the pharmacy uses
And reuses “for the poor Indians.”
Can’t you see that the pharmaceutical industry is a good investment?
Almost as good as arms.
And white slavery.
Who can stop looking
At the one billion people
Among us
Who don’t have 
Food or water today?
(You take flight.)
You see cadavers scattered around your final fortress.
How many do we kill in Gaza,
In Acteal,
And in Ciudad Juarez?
Swollen dead
Dead in the desert.
Picked clean by vultures.
Stripped by dogs.
And eaten through by worms.
Do you see skeletons stained with blood?
Bones strewn . . .
My skull there
Bleached by the years . . .
(I don’t see anything)
I only
 “The Eagle” has 360 images, which can be employed as an oracle in the manner of the I Ching or the Sabian Symbols, magical poems also created by clairvoyants. 
These images are intended to evoke compassion, and can be used in the way Buddhist monks meditate on the pain of others or even contemplate the purification of cadavers in a cemetery where the dead are left to be devoured by buzzards. The objective of such practices is to develop awareness that all beings long to be free from suffering and to find the root of happiness. 
                                                                                                             –Munda Tostón
“Aguila” © Ambar Past. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Samantha Schnee. All rights reserved. 
Read more from the January 2012 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.