ON FEBRUARY 23, 1836, troops from the Centralist Republic of Mexico laid siege to the Mission San Antonio de Valero—the Alamo—defended by a couple hundred American and Mexican Texians fighting for Texas’s independence. Relief expeditions organized by Major Robert M. “Willie” Williamson and Colonel James Walker Fannin never arrived.
This poem evokes the last days of Second Lieutenant James Butler Bonham, reputedly a boyhood friend of Alamo commander William Barret “Buck” Travis. Bonham was the only Alamo messenger to return and perish with the garrison. Defender Louis Rose left the mission after Travis famously asked his men to commit to the fatal last stand. Gregorio Esparza, a Mexican Texian, died with Bonham and nine others while manning the battery in the apse of the Alamo church.
Bonham In Extremis
by Floyd Collins
Only in retrospect would the blood-dimmed
Outcome seem inevitable. And despite
The fact that the Mexican generalissimo
Set snapping on the afternoon breeze,
From a makeshift staff atop the belfry
Of bronze-domed San Fernando, a red
Skull and crossbones–blazoned banner
Of no quarter, we were never men bent
On the main chance, and took all such
Blackguards for callow, comic-opera
Buffoons who loved a jest. Yet the boldest
Among us stared a spell at the line Travis
Traced deep in the caliche soil at our feet
Before seized by any impulse to step
Out of the quotidian flesh and into history,
Where the courtyard gathered us close,
Knitting us ghost and sinew in one resolve.
And, indeed, among us one Louis Rose
Chose to slip over the west wall, nettles
From a field of nopal that he blundered
Into somewhere out there near sundown
Pricking more deeply than conscience.
Buck kept in the pocket over his heart
A letter from “Three-Legged Willie”
Saying filibusters rallied at Gonzales,
Dismissing Fannin and the truculence
That refused to let him budge a half-
Mile beyond La Bahía’s stronghold.
I myself carried the fateful dispatch, riding
From settlement to presidio in weather
Both parched and torrential, the hoofprints
Of my Appaloosa oozing shut behind me.
We woke before daylight next morning
To the sound of one bugle taken up
And swelled to the swart Moorish tones
Of the “Degüello,” the regimental bands
Urging the Centralist battalions forward.
Soon but a few gunners held the platform
High in the apse of the Alamo church.
We swung about a brass six-pounder,
Plugging the bore with langrage, chopped
Horseshoes and nails; Esparza set linstock
To priming tube, the hoarse report
And rising gust of incandescent metal
Ripping an even dozen Matamoros
Grenadiers to tatters. Thronging soldados
Regrouped inside the chapel’s archway,
And muskets banked like galley oars,
Each rank fired volley after volley, bayonets
Gleaming phosphor. Smoothbore shot
Plinked off the mortared limestone interior,
Leaden spheroids spent beyond flesh and bone.
I lay riddled and blood-boltered on the scaffold,
My last breath a wisp unfurling the dawn air.
Floyd Collins has published four volumes of poetry, most recently What Harvest: Poems on the Siege and Battle of the Alamo, from Somondoco Press (somondocopress.com).