Reviewers tend to bandy about the term epical to describe events of monumental historical proportion when depicted on the stage, screen or in novels. Yet the epic is a legacy of poetic tradition. This collection of narrative poems incorporates much of that tradition while bringing something original to historical narration. Through the eyes of the Indians both noble and lowly, real and imaginary, in a series of first person poems, the events in the one hundred years immediately before Pizarro's arrival in Peru in 1532 until 1571 are recounted. Totemic spirits -- puma, condor, llama and serpent -- speak, each representative pairs of the male-female polarities of the Incan empire, which was divided into four quarters, or suyos. Each of the Incan rulers relates events of the pre-conquest period through the execution of the last Incan ruler, Tupac Amaru.

The collection ends with an invocation to Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes. Spirit inheres in all things -- rocks, minerals, animals, sky and water --in a way incomprehensible to the conquering Spanish horde greedy for land and gold. For the Incas, these were not commodities to be bought and sold, but life and light itself. The stones breathed; patterns were discernible everywhere, which the Incas wove into their robes and drew upon their

 

pots. They observed dualities everywhere -- light and dark, sun and moon, male and female. The poetry throbs with the sense of the meaningfulness of all Nature in the cosmic order:

          The stones breathe and move into perfect place
           for nimble hands quick to grasp what's fluid
           in shapes like holy eggs in which drowse
           men not yet born and those already dead
           all hardened into rock by force of time.

In the 10-line stanzas of 10 syllables, I attempt to capture the pattern and organization of Incan society. The black and white imagistic photos were chosen to capture the themes of light and dark, of the sacredness of rock, springs and caves. The epic form from time immemorial has been used to tell the history of a people, their origins, their rise to greatness and their decline. I chose the dramatic monologue with the elements of epic narrative poetry as the best form to tell this story. Yet in the end, I do not believe that the conquerors prevail, but rather that the conquered, mixing their blood and faith with those of the conqueror, endure like the silent stones of the Andes.

    Reviewer, Christine Swanberg of Rockford IL, writes:
Land of the Four Quarters is a fine poetic history of the Incas. It is original, complex and very imaginative. Its form is stunning. Each new reading and rereading brings new insights into the rich historical period when the Incas flourished in Machu Picchu. Written maturely in uniform stanzas, iambic pentameter and intricate voices, complete with an Inca glossary, it reaches the pinnacle of scholarship and art.

 

Quipuscamayo
Incan Account Keeper

After the conquest how can quipus keep
count of wounded and slain in Tahuantinsuyo?
Are there knots enough to record defeat?
After defeat, notch all who turned and ran?
Gourds and grains were countable before this
but not broken bones the horses trampled.
I knot my throat tighter than colored cord
with which I tallied scores of tambo food
and finger quipus like rosary beads
for no keeper lives to translate stories.

Quipus like quiet stones tell no tales.
Hung behind museum glass cases they are
keepers of logical secrets withheld.
What time tallies quipus can't confess
yet shamans keep lore of gourd and rattle.
Those patient to heed whisper of water
fluently bend toward any minor movement,
note whine of wind before the earth contracts,
press ear to granite's grandfatherly grunt
and the astute sniff motion in mountains.

I've thread needles through rubble of life.
Often boulders obstructed midnight paths,
in daylight hailstones riveted roof.
With nimble fingers I twisted the cords
into color-coded meanings only I knew.
You think perhaps knots measure height or depth,
extent of empire or reach of arms.
Not so, the cords are toys of the gods
we string together like buds on a branch
just bumps on this line signifying time.

The space between the markings like blue
between clouds or air between mountain peaks,
emptiness making all the difference to me
like light between dark, rest after long march.
The reassurance of touch after leaps of faith
like pause between Hail Mary and Our Father
the friar makes on crystal-studded chains.
He recites the pattern, common knowledge,
but quipu clues are too sacred to mutter
in hut I keep in shade of Cathedral.