The Death of Travis
How a revolutionary hero rallied the troops for the last time: An excerpt from The Alamo, Michael Lind’s epic poem about the fight for Texas’ freedom.
The smoking crater of the Alamo
was ringed by hundreds, crawling mauled, or still,
like trunks denuded by the blasts that blow
concentric sheets of flame beyond the frill
a meteor’s splash creates; the timber will
compose neat rings of pillars round a dish
of glassy blisters bubbled by the crash.
Repelled by whistling volleys from the church
and from the north facade, those who survived
from three defeated teams began to lurch
and limp toward the northeast. Here they were hived
with Colonel Amat’s reserve, when they arrived.
Untested troops and blooded merged, like creeks
confused in a composite flood that seeks
to carve a novel curve. Santa Anna watched
the ruin of his careful strategy,
knew all his orchestration had been botched.
From many wars, though, he had learned to see,
in every failure, opportunity.
For just such a contingency he’d planned.
“Send the reserves!” He bellowed the command.
The bugle’s urgent bleating stirred a rush
among the shifting ranks of the reserve
battalion. As a norther’s front will push
gold screens of dust before its blue-black curve,
the fresh combatants made survivors swerve
back toward the sparking hulk of the Alamo.
The battle would be won for Mexico.
With troops the gunlit prairie was aswirl
suddenly, as in a snowstorm, when the flakes
come tumbling fat and welded by the whirl.
The way that doves will flicker from the brakes
fringing a stock tank, till the gray sky shakes
with flutter’s thunder, shadow legions turned
and banked around the fortress as it burned.
Atop the emplacement, Travis felt the sound
of dozens underneath him in the ditch,
a sublimated tremor in the ground.
Firing in darkness, he turned to watch
the streaming shadows pile around the swatch
of mud and logs that patched the fissured wall.
It rocked, a pier collapsing in a squall.
Like hornets squeezing through a paper cell
and taking flight, the first few phantoms vaulted
the crumbling palisade. All eyes now fell
on Travis. The defenders round him halted,
to see if their commander had defaulted
or kept his vow. A cougar that a hound
has cornered, hackling, Travis stood his ground.
The Colonel hollered to his soldiers: “Fellows,
you’re wasting bravery. There’s no mistaking
what that commotion yonder has to tell us.
It’s plain for all to see. The Lord’s forsaken
the Alamo. The fort’s as good as taken.
We’ve just got time for one good rush. Come on!
A forlorn hope’s reprieve is hope for none.”
The young commander fired, and then he tossed
the empty Colt. In moments he had drawn
the sword of Doctor Long. The metal crossed
a bayonet, then bit through flesh to bone.
Now something knocked his forehead, like a stone.
Baffled, the Texan tasted his own blood.
He staggered, sagged, and slanted to the mud.
Confusion. All around is churning smoke,
a supernova’s planet-flensing shroud,
an embryonic solar system’s yolk.
No shapes, but for the shadows in the cloud
that swell and sway and pulsate to the loud
oceanic throb, a thunder to convulse
a cosmos, the percussion of a pulse.
Round Travis bullets hissed and ricocheted,
unheard by him. No one remained to stoke
the twelve-pounder whose fountain flame had flayed
so many. Bayonet met dagger stroke,
men fought around his form. In swirling smoke
he sprawled, his cavalryman’s skills all scoured
from memory, his power overpowered.