Iowa Writes

"The Conquistadores"

The sand slips like snow through fingers
of a Spanish army going home. In their helmets
the waves are reflected, breaking against their skulls.
They watch the restless ships chained like bulls
to the sea's floor. Small boats row out
to collect them. Men use their helmets to scoop off
layers of shells while the wind dries their hair,
crusted with sweat and hard weather. Others
rehearse first words for a mother, a brother,
a wife grown old. Each waits his turn
for a place in the row boat while every quarter
hour the whole army steps back
a few paces as the sea pushes their boots.
Some drop to their knees, beat the water with their fists.

From this point each of them will go on, though going on
from here can only mean going back — to a city,
perhaps Salamanca, the square burnt dry,
the windows high up flagged with laundry.
Or to a house in a field — the old stumps are still
in the yard, the fruit pits on the door step, the scraps
of wool under the bed. But after so many years
the quiet ones waiting inside are strange.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Naomi Wallace is a winner of the 1990 Nation / Discovery Award for poetry. She has recent or forthcoming work in The Massachusetts Review, Threepenny Review, and Salmagundi.

"The Conquistadores," published originally in the Winter 1991 (21.1) issue of The Iowa Review, can be found on the magazine's online archives.

This page was first displayed
on August 15, 2013

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