Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

The Right Foot of Juan de Oñate

On the road to Taos, in the town of Alcalde, the bronze statue 
of Juan de Oñate, the conquistador, kept vigil from his horse. 
Late one night a chainsaw sliced off his right foot, stuttering 
through the  ball of his ankle, as Oñate’s spirit scratched 
and howled like a dog trapped within the bronze body.

Four centuries ago, after his cannon fire burst to burn hundreds
of bodies and blacken the adobe walls of the Acoma Pueblo, 
Oñate wheeled on his startled horse and spoke the decree:
all Acoma males above the age of twenty-five would be punished
by amputation of the right foot. Spanish knives sawed through ankles;
Spanish hands tossed feet into piles like fish at the marketplace.
There was prayer and wailing in a language Oñate did not speak.

Now, at the airport in El Paso, across the river from Juárez,
another bronze statue of Oñate rises on a horse frozen in fury.
The city fathers smash champagne bottles across the horse’s legs
to christen the statue, and Oñate’s spirit remembers the chainsaw 
carving through the ball of his ankle. The Acoma Pueblo still stands.
Thousands of brown feet walk across the border, the desert 
of Chihuahua, the shallow places of the Río Grande, the bridges 
from Juárez to El Paso. Oñate keeps watch, high on horseback 
above the Río Grande, the law of the conquistador rolled 
in his hand, helpless as a man with an amputated foot, 
spirit scratching and howling like a dog within the bronze body. 

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