-29 May 1520; near the base of the great pyramid of Cempoala

Randy Koch

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 Narvaez’s 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 Cortes’s forces at Cempoala, four of Cortes’s men were killed and five of Narvaez’s, 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, Narvaez’s soldiers willingly or because they had no other choice joined Cortes’s 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 Narvaez’s soldiers think that they were being attacked by a large, well-armed force.