The summer sun can bake hours
From the red-clay streets in Mexican canyons,
Crack open the seams and suck the life right out of them.
That’s what made it perfect for exiles before the Alcalde,
Crazed on tequila and the Resurrection
Chased the rooster from the churchyard.
Back then we liked to say Cortez died in a vat of mescal
With two dandy feet draped over the side
And a letter from the pope rolled up and tucked into his boot.
But the Alcalde was not enamored to colonial lore,
He insisted the rooster’s crowing had disturbed his sleep
And when he had succeeded in booting the terrified bird
Over the twisted iron rails he turned to address
The people gathered on the other side.
His countenance, stoic in the aftermath of the altercation with the fowl,
Belied his tattered vest and bare, red-clay dusted feet.
I was a flame-swallower, he shouted:
A man who walked on glass.
There were nods among the people,
Though it could not be said what was affirmed.
I was a hungry man, God knows this.
But I never succumbed to the beast.
Because I understand that it is not enough to touch a woman,
It is not enough to hear your name on her lips.
You must never forget the taste of salt
in the hollow curves of her neck or
The brilliant fire-dance of candles
Wrapped in the black folds of her hair.
Here he dropped his gem-red eyes toward his hands.
When you touch a woman’s body you must believe it!
You must touch her as though you believe
And you must remember that with your hand
You have been allowed to know the work of God.
And then he turned and walked off into the heat.
Of course there were many questions on the faces of the townsfolk,
Which just as surely were never asked.
Whatever the cause they were quick to point out
That Cortez had it coming anyway,
Though none could fault the rooster for carrying on.
And the alcalde’s pain, though it was a terrible thing to see
Was ascribed to the murderous will of the summer sun.
But there is an expression used by locals now to describe
The way gringos seem to move through the scalded streets
As if they are searching for some missing part of themselves.
‘Cuidado! they will say, ‘He is chasing the rooster from the churchyard.’