The heat of the sun baked my feet,
scrambling from rock to rock,
far from the shade of the thick trees
on this mountainside,
air thick with moisture,
sweat trickling down my back,
watching snakes slither hastily
for the safety of their holes; I searched for
boulders torn from the mountain by spring rains,
the one that bore on them
the mark of the sky.
When I found one, kissed by heaven,
I stopped to thank the gods,
then pushed aside the stubborn vines
which had already sprouted around it,
and chipped carefully at the stone around it
with my own stone tools—
not for us, the metal tools of the Tarascans
to the north, no; the metal’s touch,
would profane this gift of the gods,
this gift that would save so many lives.
Pounds of blue-green rock, I carried home
in a basket on my back; I shaped and cut them
with wet string impregnated with sand,
smoothed them with sand and with salt,
praying under my breath that the gods
and the priests would find my labors adequate.
Sent my eldest daughter into the jungle for orchids,
and used the flower’s gift as glue,
attaching the sky-wrought stone
to the face of a grinning skull.
Whose skull was it? I couldn’t know;
the priests had told me, it had come from
some sacrificial victim, some soldier
captured on campaign, some rebel—
like my son—who had resisted Nahautl might,
their gods-given right to rule these lands,
and had given his heart to the gods as a result.
No doubt his skin had been worn by some
priest of Xipe Totec to bring the corn to the fields;
no doubt his broken body had been flung down
from the temple’s heights, for the crowd below
to delight in; I tried not to think of this,
as I delicately placed the heaven-stone
over his jaw, avoiding the strong, white teeth;
tried not to look at that grin, to see
if it seemed familiar, to see if
the front two were crooked,
the way my son’s had been.
If I did, my hands would shake,
and the orchid-glue my daughter had toiled to bring
would be wasted.
I gave him new eyes of iron pyrite
which glowed black-gold
in the sunlight as I worked—
as I did, I could see my son’s liquid gaze
meeting mine before he left to fight.
How I’d begged him not to go,
that the Tenocha and their gods
were too strong to oppose;
how he’d told me, “How can I not resist
those who take tribute from us
in treasure and in lives,
and for no better reason than that they are strong,
and we are weak? I will show them that we
are stronger than they think.”
I turned my eyes from the ones of polished stone,
and on the last night, I lined that soldier’s mouth tenderly
with the red of thorny oyster shells,
and the jaw, hinged with deerhide,
yattered in against my hands,
which had cradled it so tenderly.
Father, it whispered, will you give me to them again?
“Yes,” I replied, my throat harsh as salt, “for giving you
to them, made holy, into the semblance of one of their gods,
means that ten of our people will not follow you
up the stairs of their temple, to that terrible altar.”
Father, why did you not come? Why did you not watch
from below, to honor me as I died?
I bowed my head over his, and wept.
“I couldn’t. I couldn’t watch you die.
Forgive me, my son, for not being
as strong as you were.”
—Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has appeared in over twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and The Fantasist. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.