I cannot say what they believed


I cannot say what they believed:

Having past the line of the 1st Meridian
The conquistadors may have been surprised
By a town of half-wits, as it was chronicled.
Though it was said by the wise indigenous, as they watched
Those drunken interlopers loitering and pissing in their streets
Soiling their fabulous uniforms, that the half-wits were
Really the conquistadors.

{mosimage}But what would I know?
If in a storm, to cast a Conquistador’s ring into the ocean
Or better still a slave, the ocean became calm
I cannot say.

Whether the earth was flat –
Or that the Conquistadors burned in Hell for their past sins
Or that their belief would uphold the eternity of the world
Or that they knew of punishment and the guilt of their sins
Or that they told strange stories of certain anchorites
Or that Angels were corporeal
Or what prodigies were invited to behold the birth of their Man-God
Or that conspiring to be God
One would be given the gift of much knowledge
Or that, in the Eighth Habitation
A fire would burn but consume no flesh of a true saint –
I cannot say.

I cannot say what they believed.
That if one native desires the meat of another native’s beast
The Mohammedan or a Chinaman must do its killing
That a fish with its head torn off for frying by a holy man
Who having eaten its head throws its body back to the lake –
To say that broken fish would live and prosper all the happier
For its sacrifice, I cannot say.
I cannot say what they believed,

That there on the borders of Pegu
Gold paves the top of a mountain
That in the temple of Nakorn Pathom
Lie the relics and bones of Sommonokodhom
That upon a patch of velvet in a crystal box lies a precious emerald
That’s guaranteed to turn any idiot into an Emperor
I cannot say.

If I could say that it was true,
If the liquor, once forbidden, would intoxicate the priests all the more
Or that fasting on a holy day made one holy
Or to labour on that day of rest
Was no labour at all,
If it could be said it would be said.

That it would be said if it could be said
That the Conquistadors authorised their religion by false oracles
That the Chief of Conquistadors had said
Some lowly scribe had lied to save the borders of their precious nation,
And lied again,
That their pompous messages were accidents
Of ornate untruth and eloquent misquotation.
If this were true I cannot say.

Adam Aitken

Adam Aitken

Author: Adam Aitken

Adam Aitken is a poet, memoirist, academic and editor (with Kim Cheng Boey and Michelle Cahill) of Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (Puncher & Wattmann 2013). Born in London in 1960 to an Anglo-Australian father and a Thai mother, Adam spent his childhood in South-east Asia, before migrating to Australia where he graduated from the University of Sydney in 1982. He was a co-editor of the poetry magazine P76, and for a time was associate poetry editor for Heat magazine. He published his first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, in 1985. His most recent books of poetry are Tonto’s Revenge, (Tinfish Press, Hawai’i) and Eighth Habitation, which was shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Award. His work appears in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, Jacket2, Southerly, and in Life Writing. His book Eighth Habitation was shortlisted for the John Bray Award, and he was the Visiting Writer in Residence for Fall Semester, 2010 at the University of Hawaii. Adam first worked with The Red Room Company, writing the poem 'Costumes' for the Occasional Poetry project in 2007. In 2012 he was resident at the Australia Council’s Keesing Studio, Paris. His latest work is a memoir One Hundred Letters Home (Vagabond Press 2016). He currently researches reflective academic writing at the University of Technology Sydney.

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