to a well traveled hidalgo

This will be hard to explain, so please lie
Still and I’ll try to make it clear to you.
It may have been a normal day; perhaps
You were optimistic, out for a hunt.
Something happened, though–a fall from the saddle?
Boils, putrid breath, and fever? An axe?
Whatever it was, you were dead by day’s end.
(Every death comes before a day has ended.)
At least a few people were sorry enough
They had a huge monument made of you:
Sword in your hand, Pepe curled at your feet,
All in gilt and expensive blue tempera.
Come to think of it, they messed up the garments
A bit. Parts hang down as if you were standing;
Other parts lie flat as if you were prone.
Never mind; in all, it was resplendent.

Some of the rest is easy to relate.
Woodworms are responsible for all those holes.
There was a fire once. You would recognize
La Guerra Civil as a peasant revolt
With more than the typical body count.
Napoleon–he was sort of a Lombard
Who got himself crowned Emperor in Rome
And sent a Frankish army to sack Spain.
Columbus–well, let’s just say there’s another
Large country out west across the sea, yes,
Way west of Galicia, and a part
Of that is settled now by a kind of
Heretical Anglian peasant mob
Who like things like your monument. They bought it
Cheap, carted it over, and laid you out
To be labeled, walked around, and looked at.

Honestly, just one in ten look down, for
The pictures all around you are more vibrant
And hang conveniently at eye level.
Still, now and then a whole regiment
Will gather round, women in their midst, and point.
They know more of your time, Hidalgo, than
You did. They know the before and after
And the why of everything. You just inhaled
The loamy air, tasted salt from your lip,
Felt horsehair, and heard the crack of the whip.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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