© 2004 Robert Bogan Austin, Texas
SONG OF THE BALCONES
C A N T O F I V E
November 21, 1831. Bowie's raiders manage to survive the day-long
battle, suffering a single fatality. Around midnight Smith approaches the
Indian camp and witnesses the Tawakonis' disproportionate loss of life.
Guards discover the spy and shoot him.
So hot was the thunderstorm of starbright sparks
raining on men in the thicket, they couldn't open
horns to reload, or the gruff powder would blow,
torching the twiggy fort in one blunt whump.
Gonzales told me this four years later
when we stood watch in Veramendi's house, behind barricades
just a few hours before Cos's escopetas
caught Hall and me on the roof, ending the brawl for us.
These, and Milam's burst brain two days later, are linked
in my mind with this fire fight beyond the far San Sabá.
Each drudge in the thicket fought to fend the flames'
hungry assault, plunged through thorny mesh
that sliced flesh from drenched faces. They pounced on pungent
fire flowers fleeing like mice through the resinous brush.
They thought each snap the final rush of Tawakoni
spear and tomahawk. Bowie shouted to shoot once
when braves charge, press backs together, draw knives and
kill to the end. They snagged, smothered and crushed
each famished bloom, till smoke tearing at lungs
thinned, and they spotted warriors bent to spring.
Winded weary fighters peered through scorched,
steamy briars at warriors with daggers hiked.
Blackened bluestem stubs unraveled, tangling
strands round stopped moccasins slowly backing away.
The sun plummeted towards oak isles and grass-shaggy
gulfs, and trumpeted brave Tawakoni retreat.
Cephas Hamm heaved a pistol, cocked and aimed,
pinning shaky beads to a vanishing back.
Squinting he started to squeeze but quit. He dropped
his strengthless arm and sighed through grinning grime.
Chests heaving, faces muddy with soot-dark sweat,
Hamm, Wallace, Armstrong, and the Bowies collapsed in the
shallow pit Gonzales and Charles had grubbed.
Coryell poked a gun over the low picket,
locking his maimed arm stiff to his thick side as if
false rigor could trick the last red pain from draining.
Charles' rags stemmed the cherry bloom on Doyle's breast but
bulging in Buchanan's cracked leg lured damp fever
like flies. McCaslin's callous sleep hardened
when the sun shut its eye in the crimson west.
Thirst and fatigue besieged instead of warhead
as night piled a pitchy rampart round the thicket.
Slung with dry skins, Wallace crawled out and drew
cold inky creek water before moonrise.
The filled skins swagged and forced him to sprint back standing.
A sniper saw, fired once, but missed him clean.
Expecting doubled attacks at dawn, they gouged with
fingers and knives, working the earth deeper.
They listened for hours to Tawakoni drumming and keening
stabbed at midnight by one fugitive gunblast.
When the sun glided far beyond violet hills,
Lupe's form rose like a pearl moon in my mind.
Her open arms bridge the viper-coiled void,
anxious alarm ablaze in azure eyes.
Carefully I picked my way down dark hillsides,
watching Oso confirm the peril I felt
whine a hive of stricken bees in my ear.
The rolling dirge of Tawakoni loss windlassed us
a quarter mile west of the thicket, where listless
campfires glowed and sputtered by a narrow pool.
Neither Goliad's bone-choked flats nor ashes heaped by
Santanistans in Béxar plazas mapped more slaughter.
I tied Alado, signed Oso to stay,
and slipped through switchgrass and sycamore ribs.
Corpses sprawled at Peggy Lake one spring noon
bridged the marsh with a dike of cooling flesh.
Here the dead and damaged wove a feathered shroud
for the groaning glade. Half of those who listened
last night to the San Sabá whisper now shivered
while witchmen quaked, or floated on rigid silence.
Like a whiskered cat, I felt his opaque approach
mash moist air to my cheek. I pulled a pistol and
thumbed the cock, neither saw nor heard close crisis
till the warrior's shadow leapt with wide blade drawn
flashing pale fire brightly. I stabbed the barrel
at his dark shape and blasted, stopping his thrust
in my free arm's meat, then jumped from his slumpclutch
and plunged through bony sumac rods to Alado.
Bounding up I hugged his neck, sank heels and glanced back.
Oso frogged at the fastest chasing braves.
One barbed shaft flew deep at my neck's root,
numbing my grip on the reins as the hooves took flight.
One bit bone near the left knee, exploding
fireballs down my boot. The rushing night pushed black
at my brain. I pressed Alado's pumping neck and
clung to moaning leather as my grasp leaked,
raining red blessing over night's dark dust.
Steep sleep loomed like Balcones’ limestone frown
or Hudson palisades, Iroquois head stones,
sealing me from cold coma-thorn midnight hope.
Lupe's reaching arms span my hooded swoon.
From her brow a crescent of thistle down scatters
unborn wisps over thin granite-pinched soil.
Watchful blue wisdom wonders at brutal absurdity.
What fruit is borne of a land sown with such seed?
What change must come to the soul gorged on such meat?
From the rot of war the trees of nations grow.
The murk slows to a walk. Cobalt dawn glow
brightens some spring where Alado sinks his thirst.
I plunge to the pool of Lupe's nursing embrace.