Note: This poem was originally written in Purépecha, now often written P’urhépecha. It is not known to be related to any other language. The Purépechas were both excellent strategists and fierce warriors in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, having dealt the powerful Aztec armies one of its few major defeats. Lázaro Cárdenas, a revolutionary general and Mexican president (1934-40), was from Michoacán and most likely had Purépecha ancestors. His presidency was marked by a mix of Socialist and New Deal politics, a great distribution of land to peasants and indigenous people. His son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, is a perennial candidate for the presidency from the left of center party, and his grandson has been elected Governor of Michoacán.
She is not a queen.
Hungry, early in the morning she goes for firewood.
At night she serves supper; the next day
dawns with merchandise: crockery, chapatas, guayabas, bread . . . , she goes to sell them in the morning.
They do not dedicate poems to her.
She claims no privileges; she goes among the furrows
to plant, harvest . . . carefully finishes her handicrafts.
In the family a man may fail, but she . . . never!
Until dawn, alone and in silence, she wanders
the streets searching for her children.
Her eyes proclaim impotence because
she cannot haggle in her own language
to get fair prices for her merchandise.
Mother, for all eternity!
she holds her children in her heart
even though they have abandoned her.
She does not use makeup, nor perfume: yes,
she shows the marks of work.
She is not in a sanctuary.
No one lights incense on her journey.
Her body gets plenty of the sun’s rays;
her feet feel the snow;
her face is impregnated
with sweat and dust.
She does not say anything,
her world is what it is.
Her values must collide with modernity.
She must seek her gods among the ashes.
She does not use her beauty to compete.
With her reboso, overblouse, sash, language, smile,
she engenders, amuses and elevates,
and is the last refuge of the Purépecha culture.
She, she is the Purépecha mother.
Originally published in Nuni, Espacio para la expresión de las lenguas y culturas indígenas de México, año v, número 13, abril de 2002, p. 22–23. Translation © 2005 by Earl Shorris. All rights reserved.