Some Thoughts on Birds and Trees…
the conquistadores arrived, folks would make pilgrimages to Ah-Cuzamil, in order to listen to the soothsaying speeches of the high priests, who often spoke from inside a holy hollowed-out terra cotta sculpture named Teel-Cuzam, or, The Swallows’ Feet. When Cortés’ army decimated the area, introducing smallpox, the island was rendered derelict and forsaken, the only visible signs of life being the swallows coupling successfully with each other, less successfully with the bluish foliage. When Cortés conquered the city-state of Tetzcuco, he appointed as its leader a fella by the name of Lord Swallow.
The birds famously nested in the crooks among the sheer faces of Aztec holy temples. In the ancient settlement of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, the birds often oversaw the sacred goings on at the Butterfly Palace temple, where famed Aztec god Quetzalcoatl demanded the sacrifice of butterflies, that they be burnt alive (Itzpapalotl, jack-of-all-trades goddess of human sacrifice, war, Earth, knives, obsidian, women who died in childbirth, etc, is often depicted stalking warriors into battle and, as they die, copulating with them, a trapped butterfly quivering in her lips). When Cortés set up his compound in Cuernavaca, the swallows decorated the rooftop of his obraje, a workshop for producing items of wool, cotton, and, Cortés’ favorite, silk (Cortés, via his associate Diego Delgadillo, introduced the silkworm to Oaxaca, and is said to be responsible for launching Mexico’s silk manufacturing industry).
The less-than-silky plant, Mexican swallowwort, is believed to have received its name due to the synchronous blooming of its yellow flowers, and the swallows’ seasonal return. The plant would lose its flowers just as the swallows departed for their autumn hibernation. In the end, the birds forsook Cortés. In 1547, he was stricken with a wicked and irreversible bout of dysentery. Only months later, he died of pleurisy. Swallowwort has many aliases. Among them: Butterfly Weed, Silkweed, Pleurisy Root…
Louisa and I stumble into the Zócalo, the ghosts of the conquistadores and the conquered howling like wind among the pillared arcades, the small pocket of garden, the sidewalk cafes. In this wind, the banana leaf petal blows from Louisa’s hair, catching for a moment, I hope, in a tangle of swallowwort. Hungry, listening for birdsongs, searching for old bloodstains, we wonder about the nature of connection, and how, or if, we come in at all.