Plaza de las Tres Culturas


by Larry Duncan

On the Plaza de las Tres Culturas
where footsteps become small,
where time climbs up from beneath
the cobbled streets and rises
with the shadows on the wall
while the soldiers stand stone-faced,
hugging their rifles before the churches
and the Night of Tlatelolco,

where Christ and the Jaguar Warriors bleed
beneath Roman and Conquistador spears
while the cracked, crumbling gaze of saints
rise in beatific grace toward
the keystones of cathedral arches,

where there are so many bodies in the air,
carved into the stone, buried in the walls,
bleeding out through the brushstrokes
of Rivera Murals that it’s hard to breathe,
to know your own breath from another
to separate the cacophony of cardiac drums
and the syncopated slap of ceremonial feet
from the vatic cry of street vendors
and the calliope churn of the organ grinder.

Under the corrugated weave of Mexico City streets,
past the turnstiles and down the stairs
where the worm-like tunnels of the Metro
meet the old shores, the sacrificial stone
and the first shrines to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli,

where the bodies are piled,
pressed chest to back along the rail lines
and you have to button your shirt tight
to hide the gold you wear
and carry your wallet close to your chest
and your hands out in the open near the ones you love,

where the polícia stand above it all
on black boxes with mirrored eyes and flak jacket chests,
their faces impassive and enraptured,
riot gear icons,
the saints of the subway

In the mad rush between the platform
and the hungry cell of the car, your love,
born in this city,
whose name means thief,
and her mother
and her mother’s mother
already onboard,
her face flanked by futures of her face,
three fates or furies receding in a flood of faces,
foreign faces
turned in every direction
away from the waiting,

where doors become teeth,
incisors to the liminal stride
between platform and car
between modes of motion
between the column thrust forward
and the spindrift tumble back—
the swell of bodies behind
and the swell of bodies before—
molars on the mouth of metro,

where familiar eyes bob and become strange
in the downturned and dispassionate crush,
where fear rises from the middle of the eyes
and radiates in the tangled strands of limbs
tossed and tumbled in a sea of limbs,

where bodies are broke into pieces,
pieces on the platform, pieces on the car,
no cell left uncleaved
in the holy motion of human mitosis.


An earlier version of “Plaza de Las Tres Culturas—December 7th, 2012” previously appeared in BankHeavy Press: Navigating Yesterday’s Rubble and in Crossroads of Stars and White Lightning

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