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Poetry

Nothing Remains Empty

By Juan Gregorio Regino
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Juan Gregorio Regino calls upon divine forces to sanctify his work in this contemporary poem, styled after traditional Mazateco chanting.

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. Although the subject matter of the following poem is contemporary, the style is traditional. As Juan Gregorio Regino has maintained the rhythms of Mazateco chanting in his Spanish translation, we have attempted to carry the rhythms through here.

Nothing will remain empty.
Nothing will remain forgotten.
There is a place in the Universe
where the memory of time
is recorded.
My words will be recorded there.

In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In books of light.
In peaceful books.
Because I am writing with
a sacred pencil,
with a sprout for a pencil,
with a pencil of white light.
Thus I feel secure.
Thus I feel wise.
My word is sacred.
My breath is pure.
It is born from there.
My language is fresh.
It will be heard.
It will be written.
In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In the books of light.
In the books of peace.
My words will reach there.
On the white table.
On the mother table.
On the clear table.
On the wise table.
Because they are not empty words.
Because they are not hollow words.
Because I speak humbly.
Because I ask for mercy.
Because I ask for justice.
I am not speaking to a vacuum.
I have my light turned on.
I have my breast open.
I have my heart pure.
It is born from there.
It springs forth from there.
It germinates from there.
I have my tender pencil.
I have my kindly pencil.
I have my pencil of light.
I have my sprouted pencil.
It is in between my hands.
It is in between my fists.
They will arrive at a clean house.
They will arrive at a white house.
They will arrive at a celestial house.
They will arrive at a house of flowers.
Because I am begging for clemency.
Because I am begging for justice.
Nothing secret exists.
Nothing hidden exists.
These images speak.
These images plead.
Between many dead letters.
Between many bad rifles.
Between many words
that do not reach the sky.
Now I hand it over.
Now I send it.
How far does the infinite light reach.
How far does the white light reach.
In the clean house.
In the white house.
In the celestial house.
My words will arrive there.
Because there are no lies.
Because there is no evil.
Because I deliver humbly.
Because I ask with just words.
Because my language is pure.
Because my word is wise.
Because my speech is sacred.
Because my breath is fresh.
They will be received,
they will be heard.
In the house of purity.
In the house of chastity.
Where the lovely table is set.
The white table.
The mother table.
The clear table.
The table of the dawn.
They will arrive like fresh medicine.
Like new leaves.
Like tender sprouts.
Like blank dew,
clean and transparent.
As my grandfather says.
As my mother expresses.
My young mother.
My tender mother.
My pure mother.
My dewy mother.
Thus I deliver this word.
Thus I deliver this book.
Thus I deliver this judgment.


Originally published in
Que Siga Lloviendo, Escritores en Lenguas Indigenas, Mexico, 1999.

Read About Bios Context Explore Teaching Ideas

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. Although the subject matter of the following poem is contemporary, the style is traditional. As Juan Gregorio Regino has maintained the rhythms of Mazateco chanting in his Spanish translation, we have attempted to carry the rhythms through here.

Nothing will remain empty.
Nothing will remain forgotten.
There is a place in the Universe
where the memory of time
is recorded.
My words will be recorded there.

In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In books of light.
In peaceful books.
Because I am writing with
a sacred pencil,
with a sprout for a pencil,
with a pencil of white light.
Thus I feel secure.
Thus I feel wise.
My word is sacred.
My breath is pure.
It is born from there.
My language is fresh.
It will be heard.
It will be written.
In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In the books of light.
In the books of peace.
My words will reach there.
On the white table.
On the mother table.
On the clear table.
On the wise table.
Because they are not empty words.
Because they are not hollow words.
Because I speak humbly.
Because I ask for mercy.
Because I ask for justice.
I am not speaking to a vacuum.
I have my light turned on.
I have my breast open.
I have my heart pure.
It is born from there.
It springs forth from there.
It germinates from there.
I have my tender pencil.
I have my kindly pencil.
I have my pencil of light.
I have my sprouted pencil.
It is in between my hands.
It is in between my fists.
They will arrive at a clean house.
They will arrive at a white house.
They will arrive at a celestial house.
They will arrive at a house of flowers.
Because I am begging for clemency.
Because I am begging for justice.
Nothing secret exists.
Nothing hidden exists.
These images speak.
These images plead.
Between many dead letters.
Between many bad rifles.
Between many words
that do not reach the sky.
Now I hand it over.
Now I send it.
How far does the infinite light reach.
How far does the white light reach.
In the clean house.
In the white house.
In the celestial house.
My words will arrive there.
Because there are no lies.
Because there is no evil.
Because I deliver humbly.
Because I ask with just words.
Because my language is pure.
Because my word is wise.
Because my speech is sacred.
Because my breath is fresh.
They will be received,
they will be heard.
In the house of purity.
In the house of chastity.
Where the lovely table is set.
The white table.
The mother table.
The clear table.
The table of the dawn.
They will arrive like fresh medicine.
Like new leaves.
Like tender sprouts.
Like blank dew,
clean and transparent.
As my grandfather says.
As my mother expresses.
My young mother.
My tender mother.
My pure mother.
My dewy mother.
Thus I deliver this word.
Thus I deliver this book.
Thus I deliver this judgment.


Originally published in
Que Siga Lloviendo, Escritores en Lenguas Indigenas, Mexico, 1999.

Definitions

Indigenous people: The first people to live in a particular place; for example, Native Americans

Juan Gregorio Regino

Juan Gregorio Regino is one of the leading poets in indigenous languages in the Americas. He is Mazatec, born in 1962 in Chicicazapa, Solyaltepec, Oaxaca. In 1987, he received his bachelor’s degree in ethnoliguistics and a second degree from the Center for Research and Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology. He was president of the Center for Writers in Indigenous Languages during the 1990s. Regino’s work follows two distinct paths. One is contemporary, the other is contemporary and based more closely in the Mesoamerican world. Among his best known works is the often translated poem to Maria Sabina, the famed shaman.

Earl Shorris (translator)

Earl Shorris was a prominent social critic and author. His works include Ofay; The Boots of the Virgin; A Novel of Pancho Villa; The Death of the Great Spirit; The Oppressed Middle: Scenes From Corporate Life; Latinos: A Biography of the People; and New American Blues: A Journey Through Poverty to Democracy among others. He was the coeditor of In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican LiteraturePre-Columbian to the Present; The Life and Times of Mexico; and While Someone Else Is Eating: Poets and Novelists on Reaganism. He was a contributing editor to Harper’s, and his essays and articles appeared in the Nation, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesAmerican Educator, the Antioch Review, and many more publications. He founded and chaired the advisory board of The Clemente Course in the Humanities; and cofounded—with Howard Meredith and members of the Kiowa, Cherokee, Chickashaw, Maya, Nahua, Lakota, CYup’ik, and other tribes and nations—the Pan-American Indian Humanities Center at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. He died in May of 2012.

​Sylvia Sasson Shorris (translator)

Sylvia Sasson Shorris is the author of Talking Pictures: With the People Who Made Them and co-editor of While Someone Else Is Eating: Poets and Novelists on Reaganism and In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature Pre-Columbian to the Present. She has published articles in The Nation, Chicago Tribune, Fork Roads, and Review (a publication of the Center for Inter-American Relations), and has been a translator in Mexico for Luis Montes Film Distribution, and in New York for 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

Hear the Poem

Listen to Juan Gregorio Regino reading “Nothing Remains Empty” in Mazateco and Spanish.

(Listen to the poem on YouTube.)

Read “The Poet Speaks, the Mountain Sings (A Talk & a Poem),” another poem by Juan Gregorio Regino.

Hear the Language

Watch a video of traditional Mazateco chanting.

(Watch this video on YouTube.)

Life in Oaxaca

For images of daily life, look at the photo essay “Hoop Dreams in Oaxaca’s Hills.” You can also look through images of Mazatec life: A community meeting in the city of PueblaA speech at the meetingCarnaval MazatecoCookingA PathChildren, DancersA concert. (English titles from WWB.)

Explore the region with a Google map of Oaxaca, Mexico, and a map of indigenous peoples in Oaxaca—Mazatec regions are pale blue.

Read about the traditional home of the Mazatec people in Oaxaca: A Land of Diversity.

More from Juan Gregorio Regino

Read more poetry by Juan Gregorio Regino, published in Words without Borders.

More from Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris

Find additional translations and other work from Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris, like the translators’ essay, “The Indigenous Literature of the Americas.” This essay was the introduction to Jaguar Tongues, the issue where this translation first appeared.

More Indigenous Writing and Culture

Read an interview with Dona Julia Julieta Casimiro, a member of the “indigenous grandmothers” council and a representative of the Mazatec culture. You can also read Words of the True Peoples, an anthology of contemporary indigenous Mexican literature.

Learn about the Mazateco language and find online lessons.

Learn about indigenous dress and dance in Oaxaca.

Below, you’ll see an embroidered huipil, a traditional Mazateco women’s garment, from an exhibit of Mexican textiles curated by anthropologist Jill Vexler.

Embroidered huipil
Large black-petaled flowers, with checkered centers, and birds with wings spread, all outlined in red. 
Idealizing Mothers

Finally, watch Proctor and Gamble’s 2012 Mother’s Day ad, which features idealized and idolized mothers from countries around the world.

(Watch this and see more commercial moms on YouTube.)

Then, read a critical perspective on the P&G motherhood ads from New Republic: “Honor Your Mother: Don’t Watch that Patronizing Viral Ad.”

Mothers in Paintings*

“In art, when you depict a mother, it seems she better be doing her job well.” See depictions of mothers doing their jobs well and not so well from a 4-minute virtual lecture from an art historian the Met: Motherhood.

Look at the painting Portrait of the Artist’s Mother at Age 63, by German artist Albrecht Dürer. His mother, who had given birth to 18 children, was gravely ill at the time of the portrait, in 1514, and would die two months later.

Then, look at other mothers who became artists’ muses.

*For Teaching Idea 3

More Invocations*

This poem is an example of an invocation—the poet calls upon divine forces to help in creating a lasting work. For other poems that summon forces, try:

For classical examples of invocations, take a look at the beginning of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, or Dante’s Divine Comedy.

For a very different perspective on the power of words, read “Noisy Animal,” by Japanese poet Sayaka Ohsaki, published in the magazine Words without Borders.

*For Teaching Idea 1

To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.
English

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. Although the subject matter of the following poem is contemporary, the style is traditional. As Juan Gregorio Regino has maintained the rhythms of Mazateco chanting in his Spanish translation, we have attempted to carry the rhythms through here.

Nothing will remain empty.
Nothing will remain forgotten.
There is a place in the Universe
where the memory of time
is recorded.
My words will be recorded there.

In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In books of light.
In peaceful books.
Because I am writing with
a sacred pencil,
with a sprout for a pencil,
with a pencil of white light.
Thus I feel secure.
Thus I feel wise.
My word is sacred.
My breath is pure.
It is born from there.
My language is fresh.
It will be heard.
It will be written.
In clean books.
In pure books.
In books of gold.
In the books of light.
In the books of peace.
My words will reach there.
On the white table.
On the mother table.
On the clear table.
On the wise table.
Because they are not empty words.
Because they are not hollow words.
Because I speak humbly.
Because I ask for mercy.
Because I ask for justice.
I am not speaking to a vacuum.
I have my light turned on.
I have my breast open.
I have my heart pure.
It is born from there.
It springs forth from there.
It germinates from there.
I have my tender pencil.
I have my kindly pencil.
I have my pencil of light.
I have my sprouted pencil.
It is in between my hands.
It is in between my fists.
They will arrive at a clean house.
They will arrive at a white house.
They will arrive at a celestial house.
They will arrive at a house of flowers.
Because I am begging for clemency.
Because I am begging for justice.
Nothing secret exists.
Nothing hidden exists.
These images speak.
These images plead.
Between many dead letters.
Between many bad rifles.
Between many words
that do not reach the sky.
Now I hand it over.
Now I send it.
How far does the infinite light reach.
How far does the white light reach.
In the clean house.
In the white house.
In the celestial house.
My words will arrive there.
Because there are no lies.
Because there is no evil.
Because I deliver humbly.
Because I ask with just words.
Because my language is pure.
Because my word is wise.
Because my speech is sacred.
Because my breath is fresh.
They will be received,
they will be heard.
In the house of purity.
In the house of chastity.
Where the lovely table is set.
The white table.
The mother table.
The clear table.
The table of the dawn.
They will arrive like fresh medicine.
Like new leaves.
Like tender sprouts.
Like blank dew,
clean and transparent.
As my grandfather says.
As my mother expresses.
My young mother.
My tender mother.
My pure mother.
My dewy mother.
Thus I deliver this word.
Thus I deliver this book.
Thus I deliver this judgment.


Originally published in
Que Siga Lloviendo, Escritores en Lenguas Indigenas, Mexico, 1999.

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