-29 May 1520; near the base of the great pyramid of Cempoala
Their matchlocks glide over that slope as if
drifting across a smooth pool. And when some
lift out of the wave of soft light, the men must
be climbing trees or the outside of the buildings
hidden by the night. They rarely fire but scatter
and rise as if searching for a better position.
How is it, though, that they continue to climb
above the crowns of the tallest trees, the light
lifting beyond what might be there? They drift
higher, and now it seems as if the clouds have
broken and stars sift through. The rain wets
my face, and those small lights glow overhead.
Might they be the souls of the dead finally free,
drifting out of their bodies, glowing white and
green through the tree limbs and this strange air?
There, one approaches just beyond the upright lance
held by that horseman and past the axe swung at the
ground and through the earthy groan. It might as
well be mine, slowly drawing nearer, a holy glow
meant to lift my spirit. It comes, just above the
standard matted and trampled in the mud, softly-
up the stone steps, across the fallen bodies-the
wings, the waning light, its path bent by the sudden
breeze, and now (I should have known) the
glowing abdomen, and we-all insects lifting
into the night or left alone in the mud and weeds.
Note: Diego de
Rojas was the standard-bearer for Narvaezs forces, which had
beeo sent by Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba, to arrest or kill
Cortes and his soldiers because Cortes sent the treasures trom
Mexico directly to Spain and tried to prevent Velazquez trom
being named governor of the rich, newly-found territories.
During the battle with Cortess forces at Cempoala, four of
Cortess men were killed and five of Narvaezs, among them
Diego de Rojas, who died as a result of wounds he received on the
steps of the great pyramid. At the conclusion of the battle,
which Cortes won, Narvaezs soldiers willingly or because they
had no other choice joined Cortess forces to resume the
conquest of Mexico.
According to Serler and Lilley, on the night of the battle the air was filled with cucoyos-a species of large beetle which emits intense phosphoric light trom its body, strong enough to enable one to read by it. The sight of all these small fires, which likely looked like matchlocks, the slow-burning cord used to ignite the charge in a musket, may have made Narvaezs soldiers think that they were being attacked by a large, well-armed force.