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October 2005

Jaguar Tongues

From dreamscape to reportage, from transcendence to outrage, these works from the indigenous languages of the Americas represent WWB's first foray into literary archeology, placing ancient works like "The Opening of the Mexican Cantares" alongside those of contemporary writers working in the old traditions, such as Auldárico Hernández's "Dreamhouse." While some of the new read as if written centuries ago, Juan Gregorio Regino's Mazateco chant in many parts among them, "Nothing Remains Empty," others are surprisingly modern, like Humberto Ak'abal's surrealist poem "The Moon and The Feather" or Marcos Matías Alonso's devastating description of life in Mexico City "Dreams and Memories of a Common Man."

Our heroic guest editors, Earl Shorris and Sylvia Sasson Shorris, begin their extensive table of contents with essays on language, followed by poems, stories, fables, and two descriptive articles on aspects of ancient culture still in existence, one Náhuatl and the other Maya.

In the tradition of passing on the legends, folklore and wisdom of our elders from one generation to the next, the stories, poems and essays in our October issue have been shared from one language to the next. Many of the pieces written in the indigenous languages represented here, among them Comanche, Purépecha, Yucatecan Maya, Náhuatl and Classical Náhuatl, Zapoteco, Mazateco, Mixteco, Mazahua, Ñahñu, K'iche', and Tztotzil, were originally translated into Spanish and then rendered in English by Earl and Sylvia Sasson Shorris.

The Indigenous Literature of the Americas
By Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
In late August, Mexico City and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico signed an agreement to teach Náhuatl language and culture to Nahua (Aztec) students in Santa Ana Tlacotenco in the…
Laughter
Note: All of the poems in this sequence were originally written in K'iche'. The laughter of the waves is the foam. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.
Translated from Spanish
The Paths
Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. All paths arrive at the only road that exists. In the darkness only mystery is transparent. No one answers, silence too is a way to scream, and I go…
Translated from Spanish
To My Grandfather
My grandfather's steps are done; he has walked so much. Now the earth moves little by little beneath his feet so that he will be able to approach the edge of the sun. For the next poem in this sequence,…
Translated from Spanish
Dreamhouse
Note: This poem was originally written in Yucatecan Maya.Child Little brother Jaguar race of the indomitable mystical spirit your…
Translated from Spanish
That Day
That day she arrived with such force that she destroyed with one big blow my loneliness. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.
Translated from Spanish
At Times
At times sleep deserts me and lest I pass the night turning over in bed I go out to chat with the moon. She tells me about the flower that could turn into a butterfly and the butterfly that could turn…
Translated from Spanish
Squirrels
If the squirrels were to devour your eyes Modigliani would bring you to life in one of his paintings. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.
Translated from Spanish
Nothing Remains Empty
By Juan Gregorio Regino
There is a place in the Universe / where the memory of time / is recorded.
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
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A rebozo photographed in black and white.

By Mónica Morales. License: CC by 2.0 Access at: https://flic.kr/p/rP5TJ

Purépecha Mother
By Gilberto Jerónimo Mateo
She is not a queen. / Hungry, early in the morning she goes for firewood . . .
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
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Marías Mazahuas
By Fausto Guadarrama López
Where do you go, Marías, where do you go?
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
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The Owl
By Briceida Cuevas Cob
Note: This poem was originally written in Yucatecan Maya.The owl is here.He perches on the wall. And meditates.Whose death does he announceif no one lives in this village?The fossils of the peopledo not…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Like the Leaves
Forgetting is like leaves. Some fall others are born. They stop being leaves only when the tree stops being a tree. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.
Translated from Spanish
The Novice at Songgwang Temple
In the mid Joseon period, when Buddhism was only practiced high in the mountains, a mendicant monk heard that the head monk at Songgwang Temple in Jogye Mountain renowned in the Way, was encouraging monastic…
Translated from Korean
The Little Spring
Without its little spring, what would make Yongtun Village a village? Endlessly, snowflakes fall into the spring's dark waters and dissolve. What still still stillness, as Yang-sul's wife, covered…
Translated from Korean
The Zapotec Language
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. They say that the ancient Zapotecs came down from the clouds. The center of the sky was their home. Very old men, very old women and a great number…
Translated from Spanish
The Vampire Bats
The vampire bats and I were waiting for the coming of the night to play with the stars on the patio of the moon. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.  
Translated from Spanish
What Are Those Things
— What are those things that shine in the sky, — I asked my mother. — Bees, she answered Every night since then, my eyes eat honey. For the next poem in this sequence, click here. The…
Translated from Spanish
Terracina
By Luciana Capretti
“No, we can’t do it with a military airplane because the commander of the base says he doesn’t want trouble, but I think I found a solution. It’s risky, but so is your situation.”“Explain…
Translated from Italian by Marina Harss
The Serpent of the Green Mountain
By Agustin Jimenez Garcia
Note: This piece was originally written in Zapoteco.In the old days, inside the Green Mountain, there lived a giant serpent who acted as if it were the master of the place, rixxo. The serpent was so old…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Laziness
By Lázaro Márquez Joaquín
Note: This piece was originally written in Purépecha.There once was a man who was very poor, but also indolent. He tried hard to survive, by cutting firewood in the countryside and by selling it, in order…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
The One Who Went to Learn to Lie
By Victor de la Cruz
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco.There was someone in the old days, they say, who wanted to learn to lie. That’s what he told his father, who answered, “I will send you to…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Alux
Note: The work was written originally in Yucatecan Maya, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Mexico. Miguel Angel May May, the writer and cultural leader, has been responsible for the formation…
Translated from Spanish
My Encounter with Xtabay
By Wenceslao Yeh & Marcos Xiu Cachon
Note: This piece was originally written in Yucatecan Maya. It comes from a very small publication in a part of the Yucatán peninsula still very close to the area dominated by groups that remain organized…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
La Pesicola
By Gabriel Pacheco
“As you see, that was how our Creator lived, He who created everything and He who created man. He never walked like men. While he lived on earth, He always kept himself holy. He never sinned despite…
Translated from Nahuatl (Aztec) by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
A Traveler’s Tale
By Jesús Salinas Pedraza
Note: This piece was originally written in Ñahñu.A traveler felt hungry and stopped at a house, asking if they would sell him some food. The lady of the house said yes, that she would give him some food,…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Who Are We? What Is Our Name?
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. To speak, to say yes to the night; To say yes to the darkness. With whom to speak, what to say if there is no one in this house and so alone, I hear…
Translated from Spanish
“I am like a solitary star”
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. I am like a solitary star shining in the sky, and I do not need another to glitter.  
Translated from Spanish
Last Night
From the trees planted by dusk in our rooms that were set on fire we'll slowly untie the glass pigeons, that eternal foliage; they'll grow rustling on our shoulders and arms, and there will be…
Translated from Romanian
Poverty
By María Luisa Góngora Pacheco
Note: This piece was originally written in Yucatecan Maya, and was probably adapted from the oral tradition. The Maya to Spanish translation was done in a collaboration with Miguel Angel May May, Santiago…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
“I am like an otter”
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. I am like an otter when he crosses the rivers and the sea, I do not need a ship to sail.  
Translated from Spanish
Escape From Death
By Ismael García Marcelino
Note: This piece was originally written in Purépecha.Don Nicolas used to get up early every day to the sound of the birds singing. Although the cold bothered his eyes, he quickly got dressed, and before…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Juan and Xtabay
By Miguel Angel May May
Note: This piece was originally written in Yucatecan Maya. The author, Miguel May, is a personal friend. He lives in Mérida, Yucatán. His family still lives in a small town not far from the city. Although…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Echeverría
By Enrique Pérez López
Note: This piece was originally written in Tzotzil. The village of Chamula, where Tzotzil is spoken far more frequently than Spanish, has maintained much of its Tzotzil Maya language and tradition.It…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
No One Dies, Life Only Changes
By Juan López Palacios
Note: This piece was originally written in Náhuatl.We only change the way we live…. Thus it is explained in the tale of the experience of two people who lived through the following revelation.“When…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Memories
Note: This poem was originally written in Yucatecan Maya. Do you remember the days when we were young? Do you remember those afternoons in January when I visited your house? Those nights, at the door,…
Translated from Spanish
The Story of Naxá
By Juan Gregorio Regino
Note: This piece was originally written in Mazateco.Naxá, the daughter of Ts’uí and Sa, was deeply in love with a young campesino named Xungá, who lived in one of the most humble huts in the village.…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Origins of the Indians in the New World
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. It was first published in Valencia, Spain, in 1607. Fray Gregorio had heard the story from Zapotecs. The work is a fragment. The name 1-deer, referring…
Translated from Spanish
Opening Poem of the Cantares Mexicanos
Note: This poem was originally written in Classical Náhuatl. It is the first poem in the group known as the "Cantares Mexicanos." The Náhuatl title is "Cuicapeuhcáyotl",…
Translated from Spanish
The Pool
There were many stars in the pool; I asked my father to take them out. He transferred the water drop by drop and put them in my hands. At dawn I wanted to see if he had really taken them out. And it was…
Translated from Spanish
Long Ago
It has been years, many years, since cats learned to look after little girls. If some bothersome spirit comes near, the cats bristle, give a jump, and the evil spirits are gone. For the next poem in this…
Translated from Spanish
The Lemon Seller
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. To travel the seas of silence becoming nothing in the foam as if the body could have no meaning. The eyes attached to a ship, and the fate in the balance…
Translated from Spanish
The Sacvi of Chinango
By Lorenzo Hernandez Ocampo
Note: This poem was originally written in Mixteco.This is what our ancestors said, this is what our elders told us: that we lived in peace with our fellow men in this world, because we were all made of…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Chatty Girl
Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. My chatty little girl: pile up your words, cut your words into pieces and anoint me with them to see if they can soothe the pain I feel now. My chatty…
Translated from Spanish
The Loss of Our Language
By Unknown
Note: There are fewer than 100 fluent Comanche speakers in the world today.A long time agowhen animalscould talk,the languageof the peoplewas spoken,sweet—like sugar.Today, few speakComanche,its…
Translated from Comanche by Juanita Pahdopony
Memories
By Humberto Ak’abal
Now and thenI walk backwards.It is my way of remembering.If I only walked forward,I could tell youabout forgetting.This last poem in this sequence was originally published in Guchachi 'Reza' 'Iguana…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
Dreams and Memories of a Common Man
By Marcos Matías Alonso
They squeezed us and they piled us up to fill up the city, to live like ants, like crazed lizards in the middle of trash.
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
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The Ash Vendors
By Rita Molina Elias
Note: This piece was originally written in Purépecha.There once was a man who had gone to a city to sell ashes; upon arriving he spread out his “merchandise” in the town square and there he…
Translated from Spanish by Earl Shorris & Sylvia Sasson Shorris
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