Of all the poems in 1980’s Indiana Memories, the longest was also the most puzzling to me as a child. In many ways, “Tikal” remains puzzling today. It tells of a ruler, Montec:
Often from the lowest classes
Comes a man of brawn and vision,
Born to love and lead his people
The poem is set in the “commemorative” part of the book, a section notable for its poems celebrating the people and places of northeast Indiana. An epic poem about a long-lost Mayan-era civilization stands out. I wonder what it was that brought this bit of history into Art’s sphere and made him fascinated enough to write a poem about it. My small bit of Internet research showed that archaelogical excavations were carried out at Tikal from 1956 to 1970, probably around the time the poem would have been written. Maybe he read an article in “National Geographic”?
For many years, I skipped over the poem during my reading. It’s such a departure from Art’s usual work, which tended to be folksy and slow-paced. I’m glad I finally took a closer look. I have no idea how accurate the legend in the poem is. The names might even be invented. In any case, that’s not really the point. Legends transcend cultural barriers, and Art loved a good legend. The strange drumbeat pace evokes in my mind the idea of an elder sharing the legend with captivated children, his face lit by flickering candlelight. But I’m a romantic like that.
(Sidenote: Wikipedia tells me Tikal was used as a setting in the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977. Remember to thank me when you win Final Jeopardy.)