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Poetry

who were these goddesses

By Jeannette L. Clariond
Translated from Spanish by Samantha Schnee
An excerpt from Jeannette L. Clariond's Goddesses of Water, translated by Samantha Schnee, and the first selection from the 2022 Words Without Borders–Academy of American Poets Poems in Translation collection honoring National Translation Month.
Sculpture of Coyolxauhqui

 

 

They were so called because they wore god’s mask, and be-
cause their faces and hearts were resolute as stone. For days,
years, they walked with jade beneath their tongues, seeking
home. They worked the land and bejeweled their bodies. Not
as a sign of vanity, but because they tended the amaranth in
their yearning for fire. Xiuhtecuhtli was their god; xiuhtlatoa
their language, meaning “words of fire”—that which ignites
the heart. They were careful not to use xaltlatoa, “words of
sand,” fleeting, vague and un-understandable. At night
they accompanied the Sun on his descent. They were jade,
translucent, and purified the underworld, deciphering dest-
iny. Their essence dwelt in the Afterlife. Their petals arose in
song. They adorned their Home with hymns and flowers and
filled their desire with vision, fine chalice of the sagacious
seed. The upper half of their bodies naked; their breasts
were buds of omexóchitl and their verdant dreams the
sprigs of a birch. From their legs blossomed the pure wh-
ite feathers of the quetzal. Coatlicue, the goddess mother,
gave birth to the Sun and Moon. With a sword of fire, the
Sun beheaded the Moon and tossed her body down
the steps, shattering it in a thousand pieces, Coyolxauhqui
covered head to toe in shining rattles of vipers. She fell
and entered darkness. And so it was recorded on the
tree of ámatl: Light and shadow will not last. So says
the history of woman: she sought to recreate what
was within her to rewrite the Book:
The song will be reborn
in each body in such a way that we learn
to redefine what is ours, as our daughters will,
too, and our daughters’ daughters, and their
daughters’ daughters will know that their
bodies are light on Earth, heat of the sun with
its tona, energy, fecundity, song that dances
along the perimeter of stars. And so, they watch
over us from the firmament at dusk and dawn
as the sun is born and dies. These goddess
-es of water were destined to be masters
of their own desire, guides of their own
light. We must engrave on our hearts:
The place where goddesses are born.

 
 

From the collection Goddesses of Water © Jeannette L. Clariond. Translation © 2022 Samantha Schnee. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
English Spanish

 

 

They were so called because they wore god’s mask, and be-
cause their faces and hearts were resolute as stone. For days,
years, they walked with jade beneath their tongues, seeking
home. They worked the land and bejeweled their bodies. Not
as a sign of vanity, but because they tended the amaranth in
their yearning for fire. Xiuhtecuhtli was their god; xiuhtlatoa
their language, meaning “words of fire”—that which ignites
the heart. They were careful not to use xaltlatoa, “words of
sand,” fleeting, vague and un-understandable. At night
they accompanied the Sun on his descent. They were jade,
translucent, and purified the underworld, deciphering dest-
iny. Their essence dwelt in the Afterlife. Their petals arose in
song. They adorned their Home with hymns and flowers and
filled their desire with vision, fine chalice of the sagacious
seed. The upper half of their bodies naked; their breasts
were buds of omexóchitl and their verdant dreams the
sprigs of a birch. From their legs blossomed the pure wh-
ite feathers of the quetzal. Coatlicue, the goddess mother,
gave birth to the Sun and Moon. With a sword of fire, the
Sun beheaded the Moon and tossed her body down
the steps, shattering it in a thousand pieces, Coyolxauhqui
covered head to toe in shining rattles of vipers. She fell
and entered darkness. And so it was recorded on the
tree of ámatl: Light and shadow will not last. So says
the history of woman: she sought to recreate what
was within her to rewrite the Book:
The song will be reborn
in each body in such a way that we learn
to redefine what is ours, as our daughters will,
too, and our daughters’ daughters, and their
daughters’ daughters will know that their
bodies are light on Earth, heat of the sun with
its tona, energy, fecundity, song that dances
along the perimeter of stars. And so, they watch
over us from the firmament at dusk and dawn
as the sun is born and dies. These goddess
-es of water were destined to be masters
of their own desire, guides of their own
light. We must engrave on our hearts:
The place where goddesses are born.

 
 

From the collection Goddesses of Water © Jeannette L. Clariond. Translation © 2022 Samantha Schnee. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

sobre quiénes eran estas diosas

Las llamaban así por ser portadoras de la máscara del dios, y
por tener un rostro propio y un corazón firme como la
piedra. Soles, años caminaron con el jade bajo su lengua en
pos de la Casa. Labraron la tierra y adornaron sus cuerpos
con joyeles de oro, no como símbolo de vanidad, sino por
ser cuidadoras del amaranto en su anhelo de flama. Xiuh-
tecuhtli era su dios; xiuhtlatoa, su lengua, lo cual quiere
decir «palabra de fuego», esa que enciende el corazón. El-
las cuidaban de no usar la xaltlatoa,  «palabra de arena»,
que escurridiza huye sin dejarse aprehender. Por las no-
ches acompañaban en su descenso al Sol. Ellas eran el
jade y eran la transparencia, purificaban el inframundo
y descifraban el sino. En el Más Allá moraba su funda-
mento. Sus pétalos en cantos se alzaban. Con himnos y
flores ornaban su Casa y su deseo llenaban de visión, fino
cáliz de fulgor y semilla. Llevaban la mitad de su cuerpo sin
cubrir; eran brotes de omexóchitl sus senos y su sueño, verde
yema de tepozán. Y de sus piernas florecían las blanqu-
ísimas plumas de quetzal. Así fue que Coatlicue, diosa
madre, dio a luz al Sol y a la Luna. Con su espada de fuego,
él decapitó a la Luna, y por la escalinata su cuerpo rodó, y se
fragmentó en mil pedazos. Coyolxauhqui yacía toda re-
cubierta de radiantes cascabeles de sierpe. Al caer,
entró en la oscuridad. Y por ello ha quedado
grabado en el árbol del «ámatl»: Transitoria será
la luz y su sombra. Dice así la historia de la mujer:
buscó rehacer su interioridad pra reescribir el Libro:
El canto renacerá en cada cuerpo de forma que
aprendamos a resignificar el propio, y así nuestras hijas,
y las hijas de nuestras hijas, y las hijas de sus hijas,
sabrán que su cuerpo es luz en Tierra, calor de Sol
con su tona, energía, fecundación, canto que danza
en derredor de las estrellas. Es así que nos vigil-
an desde el firmamento cada mañana y cada
noche, al nacer y al caer el Sol. Las diosas del
agua tenían como propio ser dueñas
de su deseo, guías de su luz. Y así lo
habremos de inscribir en nuestros
corazones:
Lugar donde nacen las diosas.

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