Manuel Tzoc Bucup is a poet, visual, and performance artist from Iximulew (Guatemala). His work is intersectional, using poetic language and visual art to explore social realities, focusing on gender, identity, the body, origins, memory, language, image, object, sexual dissidence, and all possible combinations of these. He is self-taught, having learned through workshops, certificate programs, and readings of contemporary art and literature. In addition to self-published poetic objects, he has published a number of books in alternative presses, and his texts have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies throughout Abya Yala. Further, he has presented his visual art in galleries and contemporary art shows locally and internationally.
He is one of the founders of Maleta Ilegal, a cartonera editorial, that is a small, independent and handmade publishing outfit that carries out limited print runs. He is well-known for his queer, erotic poetry and his poetic book objects, and recently he spearheaded the publication of one of the first queer poetry collections in Central America, Antología LGBTIQ+ Guatemala (e/X 2018). Tzoc’s overall approach to the edition and publication of his verses is informed by both the practical need to forego censorship and to ensure that his work is also experienced in a sensory manner. This also means that he shortens the distance between creator and public, lending his verses a physicality that they would otherwise lack as mere printed words. For the poet, the feel of the paper, the impact of the images, and the experience of handling the poetic object are all a part of the experience, and the reader is prompted to reflect on the fetishization of the book, and, ultimately, the word.
His latest collection, Wuj (December 2019), recreates an epistolary experience of sorts. The poet-maker crafts a mere fifty copies of a loose-leaf poetic object, made out of richly textured paper, with font resembling typewritten text, all enclosed in an envelope that has been sealed. To obtain a copy, one must contact Tzoc directly, and its delivery is done by an international courier (Guatemala has no national postal system) or in-person (it should be noted that getting hold of a copy of Wuj has been impacted by the current global pandemic). The verses therein reflect on our relationship to social media (“Adiós Facebook! Cierro mi cuenta contigo ☹️” Goodbye Facebook! I’m closing my account with you ☹️) and the internet (“San Google cómo se encuentra tu espíritu cyborg en este momento?” Saint Google how is your cyborg spirit at this moment?); to writing and being read (“Ejercicios de escritura” Writing exercises, “A los lectores” To the readers, and “Wuj”); to Maya dress (“Kat Waj” I love you); and to urban life (“Memoriales urbanos” Urban memorials), to name a few. For this edition of Siwar Mayu, Tzoc presents us with unpublished verses that reflect on the current global pandemic: what it means to be alone, to face fear, illness, and death.
A selection of 5 poems from an unpublished collection tentatively entitled, “Strawberries and Failure” by Manuel Tzoc. Written during the COVID-19 global pandemic for the electronic magazine Siwar Mayu, Guatemala 2020.
Please follow this link, and enjoy four more of Tzoc’s poems. They cover a wide range of topics, written over many years. They speak to the complexity of the human existence, touching on everything from the inner child to medicinal plants and queerness.
For eight more moving poems by Tzoc, each steeped in emotion, please visit Vagabond City, a digital space which features “poetry, art, nonfiction, interviews, and reviews by marginalized creators.” (Vagabond City 2020)
Explore the galleries of Maleta Ilegal, learn about the philsophies behind “texts without borders,” and get to know the authors and artists. They support creators through their alternative publishing style, allowing for unedited and uncensored content. You can find more of Tzoc’s work there, including De Textos Insanos (From Insane Texts).
A few weeks ago, we shared words with Edinson Quiñones, an artist of Nasa ancestry, from Cauca Colombia. Edinson spoke with us from his Nasa territory, where he is currently “unlearning” at the Universidad Autónoma Indígena Intercultural (UAIIN) and leading the trans-indigenous project, “Popayork.” Through the earpiece of my cell phone in Tokiyasdi/Asheville (Cherokee territory, the United States), I can hear the clucking of chickens and the hustle and bustle of the Andean countryside. Edinson holds a degree in Visual Arts from the University of Cauca and a Master’s degree in Integrated Arts with the Environment from the same institution. He has held twelve individual exhibits and participated in more than fifty collective exhibitions. He is a member of the Collective 83 with whom he has curated and maintained the Salón Internacional Indígena Manuel Quintín Lame (2014-2020). Currently, Edinson is studying the series, “The Rehabilitation of Mother Earth,” where his first objective is to unlearn the colonial notions that isolate art from the community and create the false idea of a “select public.”
Anyone who has attended his performances and workshops, knows that, since 2003, Edinson has been recovering the steps of his elders through a visceral creative process that includes not only identity, but also the faces of the war. “I was a spirit without a guide, Brother”, he says to me, “carrying out rebellious projects to heal myself.” In 2012, after multiple trips and exhibitions, Edinson’s grandmother, a midwife and traditional Nasa medicine woman, died. While he and his mother processed this loss, Edinson began to approach, in a deeper way, the coca leaf, and the wounds from narcotraffic in the territory of his own ancestors. His umbilicus and placenta, as is the custom of many of the ancestral peoples of Abya-Yala, were buried by his grandmother, healer and pulse reader in the community. Edison’s art blossoms at the crossroads of coca, death and territory.
For Edinson, using the wood and pigment of coca looks into the poetics of nature. But to do so also means confronting global misinformation regarding the plant, the twisted reality that surrounds the consumption of cocaine (0.5 gm of alkaloid from 100 gm of the leaf), as well as the trafficking, and violence that radiates from this imbalance. Those who have visited the Gold Museum in Bakata/ Bogota (Colombia) or theCasa del Alabado Museum in Quito, are aware that many of the ancient pieces, from more than 2000 years ago, represent the poporo and the zocalo (instruments still used today for the ingestion of coca among the peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta), and the faces and bodies of the elders seated, cheeks stuffed with coca.
For Edison, as for millions of native people from the south of Abya- Yala, coca (ayu, mambe, kintu) has been and continues to be the key to composing themselves, in order to find and share the right word, to analyze and weave communally, and to show gratitude for the abundance of the Earth Mother. To call coca, “a drug” is a form of disorienting, uprooting, and distancing ourselves from ourselves. The responsibility of the European pharmaceutical industry in the decontextualization of the ancestral sense of the sacred leaf is revealed in the installation, If it’s Bayer, it’s good. This art teaches the importance of returning to ourselves.
When I asked Edinson which project he would like for us to highlight in Siwar Mayu, he responded that, curiously, he always returns to the year 2006 at the VI Festival de Performance de Cali (Colombia), where, after tattooing the image of a god jaguar/Spirit Lord of coca on his right shoulder blade, he performed the removal of the image by scarification. It seems that what remains of the performance is a photograph of an event. But what happens to the artist’s body? And what happens in the collective body? Talking with Edison, I learn what happened next: nine months healing and dialoguing with his mother, a painful process through which he had to re-learn every aspect of daily life (how to sleep, how to bathe himself), and later, the constant remembering in his own body of the primary intention. A memory to last a lifetime. Those works around the God of Coca forcefully break into the physical body to destabilize the Western epistemology. “You have to uproot the past from behind in order to see it in front of you,” he tells me, and I think about the Andean nayrapacha, “My mother, also a healer, didn’t understand why I harmed myself.”
This is what’s hard for a public that lacks care and respect to process. How to do a performance with bullets? Quitexa is the name of this work of Edinson’s. It means, “to bloom” in the Nasa Yuwe language. How to do a performance with a “coca” (the word carries a double meaning: it names the leaf, but also a wooden toy) made with the bones of victims of the war? This work is called, Violent Games. Not Everything Is a Game. “The community calls me crazy,” Edinson says laughing. “Mine is an autobiographical work that goes through distinct phases: trauma, healing, and positive transformation.”
Edison believes that this is a strategy for persisting in a society as conservative as Popayán. After centuries of internalized racism in Cauca and throughout Colombia, when words such as ‘Indian’ or ‘paez’ were used to shame those who were native to the place, today is a new day, when Edison can say, laughing, “I was searching in the air and not in the earth.” Now is the time to build from the collective, with the permission of the elders, making offerings before beginning projects, chewing coca and taking the yajé medicine, in order to inquire into the deep questions that arise from the ceremony itself. “From the law of origins there are secrets that should not be taken out of the community; it is the struggle of the artist to understand how they should share,” he explains.
This is why, in this bridge between spirituality, art, and academia, there are pieces that are not for exhibit, and words that are to be shared only at the exact moment, since “the intention begins in the seed,” as he tells me. The richness of the Cauca territory is now in the eye of extractive and private industries. Manuel Quintin Lame was one of the Nasa leaders who put up a fight against the wealthy sugarcane landowners. “Freeing the land”, Edison explains, “is to free her from the monoculture of sugar-to recover sovereignty over our food.”
“That’s why Popayork is my dream,” says Edinson, “Five years ago I began this vision and today the fruit trees are flowering, we have 30 chickens, and the bunnies have been born!” Popawork is more than a space for artist’s residencies- it is a life project that became clear to Edinson while taking yajé medicine. The way Edinson tells it, he intended to take a long trip outside of Colombia, but during the yajé ceremony he saw the place where he is now as if it were already his, that is to say, he saw the need to concentrate upon his own territory and to continue the spiritual processes that he had already been taking. Edinson invites me to reflect upon the figures that underpin the Colombian reality: out of 104.2 million hectares of territory, 48% is currently devoted to the extensive cattle ranching. That is only one clear example of the socio-economic imbalances brought about by the large landowners and the absence of an agrarian policy that would provide incentives for the farmworkers and Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.
Today, after five years weaving Popayork together, Edinson is in the process of raising the maloca (ceremonial house) and seeding the sacred tulpa (fire pit). “And we must stoke the fire and never let it burn out,” he tells me. The elders come to Popayork and offer their medicines- Yanakuna, Misak, and Nasa communities pass through, and nothing leaves Popayork without permission and guidance. The materials that Edinson has used in the past, such as those in his work, Violent Games have been through a purging process, since bullets and bones need to be cleansed also. Before closing our conversation, he from the Andes (my territory as well), and I from the Appalachian Mountains, I ask Edison about the project he is currently working on. He answers: “seeing a garden in bloom is pure collective magic, Brother. That’s how it goes these days…” At the publication of this text, the indigenous guard of Cauca is leading the national Minga (community work) in Colombia, demanding that the government of Ivan Duque assumes the responsibilities of the state and protect the lives of social leaders besieged by armed outlaw groups.
For more about the Manuel Quintín Lame Exhibition / Collective 83
Curators, mingadores (collaborative workers), philosophers, and elders like Taita Lorenzo, are all welcome in this living, portable exhibition, which includes video, audio, poetry, copy, photography, and conversation. The objective of this effort is not only to make indigenous art visible, but to create a trans-indigenous dialogue that addresses the territory. In 2019, sixty-seven artists from twelve indigenous communities participated in the Salon which was held at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia).
In both her art, writings and life, she highlights the abuses and consequences of systemic racism of the traditional ways of life of Indigenous peoples. The Indigenous teachings were passed along to her by her grandfather in Penosbscot Indian Island Reservation near Old Town, Maine. Her palimpsestic reflections on the passage of time are sensitive and striking, alluding to assimilation and heritage at the same time. The poems chosen for this selection are exemplary of these characteristics but the most famous poem from Mihku Paul’s collection of 34, “Jefferson Street School” speaks of her personal experience with White education, discrimination, social inequalities and cultural difference.
By René Alvarado Martínez y Juan G. Sánchez Martínez / Translated from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne
René Alvarado Martínez hails from San Andrés Hidalgo, Huautla de Jiménez, in the northeast region of Oaxaca, México. As he tells it, from the time he was a child, René has created from earthen clay and reproduced images that he saw in free texts and books. He also remembers being seven and beginning to notice visitors arriving at his house in search of his father, a practitioner of traditional medicine, who guided the community with candles and, on a few rare occasions with the “sacred little ones”: the medicinal Mazatec mushroom. His mother, born in Rio Santiago, Huatla de Jimenez, the birthplace of the celebrated priestess María Sabina, also plays a part in his work.
Through the course of thousands of years, indigenous peoples throughout the world have kept track of their experiences with visionary plants and mushrooms, and have represented their spiritual knowledge through different codes and mediums. However, in recent years, the use of these medicines has made its way into the imagination of “arts and literature”in mainstream languages and circles. “Mushrooms and visionary plants,” have been referred to as “drugs” (from the Spanish-Arabic root ‘hatruka’ meaning lie), or “hallucinogens” (from the latin ‘alucinari’, to ramble senselessly), as “psychotropics” (from the Greek ‘psyche,’ mind/spirit, and ‘topein,’ an altered state), as “psychedelics” (from the Greek ‘psyche,’ mind/spirit, and ‘delos,’ to manifest oneself), and as “entheogens” (from the Greek ‘en,’ within, ‘theos,’ God, ‘gen,’ to be born) as plants that allow God to flower within- this latest expression has been proposed by Gordon Wasson, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck. René Alvarado Martínez’ work is inspired by the Mazatec practice of ingestion of “the sacred little ones,” the mushrooms/medicines, who René uses the word “entheogens” to name.
Once he was in high school, René forayed into techniques such as acrylics, pastels, and stained-glass. Later he migrated to the city of Tecamachalco, in the state of Puebla, where he developed oil painting and other mixed techniques. René has participated in more than fifty collective and individual exhibitions. His work (paintings textured with Mazatec dyes and earth, carvings with obsidian on clay, ritual sculptures, and lamps) can be found in private collections in California, New York, Colombia, Argentina, Japan, Australia, and in multiple cities in Mexico.
In the words of the artist:
“During my career I have painted with colors, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, ink, drypoint, oils, mixed techniques, engravings, and natural dyes from the Mazatec region. I am also currently sculpting with clay, branches, and corrugated cardboard. Through painting I am planting an awareness of ”Human Being” in every extension of the word. I believe that through art a new world can be built. Art is an expression, a feeling, a language, a spirit of the soul made matter.”
His own iconography runs throughout René Alvarado Martínez’ work: beneath the moon, the seeds of corn align with the corners of the universe; the “sacred little ones” and the candles guide the trip and the trance that reveals the spiraling snail, that primordial image that René identifies with unity and flow; beneath the stars, the serpents, wisdom and renovation, interlace man and woman, the last protectress of the “the sacred little ones,” the creative force, the cosmic mother. Just as it does in María Sabina’s songs and evening ceremonies, Christian iconography and vocabulary sometimes superimposes itself upon the visions of the sacred mushrooms. Today, some of the elders of the community celebrate René’s work.
As in mystic poetry, René’s work captures the ecstasy of the curandero who looks into the abyss of mystery, and brings back with him knowledge of the origin of illness, the root of the cure. But these works also reflect the pillars of Mazatec celebrations that are related to the agricultural calendar- the seven maizes, the offerings to the hills and mountains, and the huehuentones, groups who dress for the Day of the Dead, whose songs and drums travel house to house, carrying advice and awareness, greeting everyone as if they were their ancestors, their family.
In my works I give expression to our ancestral knowledge and the elements that are used in a ceremony that includes entheogens: the candle, the sahumerio or copal burner, and the mushrooms. I also bring forth the sacred elements: the moon, the sun, and the stars! I immortalize and share our culture, our roots, our people, our town, our customs and traditions, the connection with our surroundings, nature itself, the supernatural, such as the chikones, guardians of the mountains, the rivers, the caves, the wind- manifesting within as well as outside of ritual, in our history and our cosmovision which contains the Sierra Mazateca. I rescue our mother tongue, since it is the net of communication between the living and the dead, along with our ancestors, deities and guardians and the knowledge that they emanate. Visionary art.
More regarding “the sacred little ones”and mazatec art
The art of Filogonio Naxín bets upon the freedom of shapes. Reaching beyond galleries, museums and art schools, Naxín dislocates definitions of “traditional” and visualizes bridges in oil, acrylic, and watercolor with which he crosses from the Mazatec language to the techniques of Western art.
Kitaay Bizhikikwe ndizhinikaaz, waabizheshi ndodem. Anishinaabe miinwa Métis ndow, bezho Mide kwe ndow. My name is Kitaay bizhikikwe, my English name is Amanda Myers. I am of the marten clan, Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, and of Anishnaabe and Métis lineage connecting to Indigenous communities across northern Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario (Madelaine Island, Bad River, Sagamok, Garden River, and Walpole Island) My ancestors of the Cadotte/Cadeau and Myers/Mailette lines lived off the land, travelling, trading and trapping, before settling here in SW Ontario. Connection to land and identity is what inspires my visual artwork. When I consider our mother, the earth beneath me, I know that spirit is all around me. I know that when I speak, all of creation is listening. When I have conversations with nature and I consider who I am and who my ancestors were, I can see things out on the landscape, so I paint what I see. My work represents my conversations with the landscape around me and how that looks to me visually.
The painting titled They Know Better, came from a conversation with water activist, Tom Cull. He asked me to collaborate on a performance for the upcoming Culture Days Festival. While we looked out into the downtown of London, Ontario, I could see through the buildings, and I thought of her, Deshkan ziibing (known colonially as the River Thames). He talked about his work with the water, and I talked about my responsibility to the water as Anishinaabekwe. The forks of the river came to my mind and the stories that I knew about it. I considered it now, the commerciality of the space, the concrete, the metal, and the way that people here talk about this beautiful life force. They often comment on how dirty she looks, how polluted she is, instead of telling her that we are grateful for her work, that we love her for what she does for us. Without the movement of this river what would happen? That’s when I could see her, Midewanakwe spirit. She was wondering, what is happening here, why don’t they pay attention to what is around them? If we pay attention, our grandmothers are always here reminding us, that is what I could see in this work, that is what I tried to show.
I often use the technique of overlapping images digitally to create the foundation of my painting, here I overlapped a historic image of the Thames River in London, England, with the current image of the forks in London, Ontario. I wanted to go back to when humans started to interfere with the landscape here. I use many layers of transparency in my work to create the images that I can see in my mind’s eye.
I see my work in writing and photography as an “act of attention,” as a way of seeing and re-seeing the universe around and within us. My poems and photographs often call attention to the wounds in our world—environmental degradation, race and class-based inequities, human suffering. But they are equally as likely to take notice of the intricacies of the everyday world—“the translucent claws of newborn mice”—or to varied pathways of spiritual connection. Art, in centering our attention, can change perception and invite a re-imagining of meaning.
My writing often traces a process of becoming, of learning how to be in the world. In Anishinaabemowin, we speak of minobimaadiziwin, the good life. Because I am invested in this becoming, my work in literature and the other arts evokes search, or the feeling of leaning toward the light. In my practice, the lens through which I refract experience often involves justice. It brings together the artistic re-seeing or vision with the Latin spiritus as in breath to speak. For me, spiritus, the gift of voice, involves not only the ability, but also the responsibility to speak.
This obligation of voice, however, can sometimes manifest itself in restraint. Poetry, at its finest, leaves room for the unsaid or unsayable; photography leaves room for the unseen or unknowable. Art is all about question and gesture. It invites a reader, listener, viewer into a dynamic process. Poetry, by its very nature gestures beyond itself; wants to crack open the surface of language and invite us into experience itself. Likewise, photography can gesture beyond mere representation. Both lean close to all borders of being—balance on the verge of vision.
Artists do not simply represent the world – although they do that work too; but on our best days, we create a pathway that ultimately fills with silence. We arrive at the edge of the known and peer beyond. In the midst of immense wild places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, for instance, we know—not by reason, but by instinct—that this is sacred. We taste our own smallness. In such moments, our experience or “truth” remains on some level inexpressible. How do you say “human insignificance” in writing and mean “belonging”? Art, at its best, leaves space for this ambiguity, for this complexity of feeling.
A White Earth childhood water rich and money poor.
Vaporous being transformed in cycles—
the alluvial stories pulled from Minnesota lakes
harvested like white fish, like manoomin,
like old prophecies of seed growing on water.
Legends of Anishinaabeg spirit beings:
cloud bearer Thunderbird who brings us rain,
winter windigo like Ice Woman, or Mishibizhii
who roars with spit and hiss of rapids—
great underwater panther, you copper us
to these tributaries of balance. Rills. A cosmology
of nibi. We believe our bodies thirst. Our earth.
One element. Aniibiishaaboo. Tea brown
wealth. Like maple sap. Amber. The liquid eye of moon.
Now she turns tide, and each wedded being gyrates
to the sound, its river body curving.
We, women of ageless waters, endure;
like each flower drinks from night,
holds dew. Our bodies a libretto,
saturated, an aquifer—we speak words
from ancient water.
Nibii-wiiyawan Bawaadanan *
agaashiinyi memiishanowed bagizod
dash debaajimojig onisaakonanaanaawaa
miidash gakina Nibiishinaabeg
aah sa ongow eta
minwaabandaan aakiing maampii
Wazhashk waabamang, niikaaninaanig
zhiibaasige zaaga’iganan gaye ziibiinsan
agaashiinyag memiishanowewaad begizojig
gidimagozijig aakiing endaaying
* Translation by Margaret Noodin
Dreams of Water Bodies
small whiskered swimmer,
you, a fluid arrow crossing waterways
with the simple determination
of one who has dived
purple deep into mythic quest.
Belittled or despised
as water rat on land;
hero of our Anishinaabeg people
in animal tales, creation stories
whose tellers open slowly,
magically like within a dream,
your tiny clenched fist
so all water tribes
See the small grains of sand—
Ah, only those poor few—
but they become our turtle island
this good and well-dreamed land
where we stand in this moment
on the edge of so many bodies of water
and watch Wazhashk, our brother,
slip through pools and streams and lakes
this marshland earth hallowed by
who mark a dark path.
And sometimes in our water dreams
we pitiful land-dwellers
recall, and singing
make spirits ready
**Go down into the water.
Poem for a Tattered Planet: If the Measure is Life
under the canopy of plenty
the sweet unfolding
season’s of a planet’s youth,
in the trance of capitalism we take our fill
content with the status quo
pull our shades on encroaching collapse
say something about Anthropocene,
the energy barter and the holy fortress of science.
the throat of commerce,
beneath the reflection
of the celestial river,
within the ancient copper beauty of belonging
we stand encircled
inhabit the Ish,
navigate by the singing of songs.
Though money fog settles around,
today veil of mystery shifts
lifts for momentary sigh t.
find rhythm of a tattered planet,
feel on panther mound
a pulse. Listen—don’t count.
Feel small life drum beneath ______.
My core. I am ancient refracted light
my frequency a constant
bending at angles
to become whole in another surface—
say a poem.
Say a poem
perpendicular to the boundary
make it a prism or possibility
sing of turtle or cast the mythic lumen
of thunderbird here
on the flat f alter of words:
This page not contract
When neither image nor voice
will twin itself,
In the thick moist cloud
if the measure is life
each limb a nimble test of tree
glimpse not see nor calculate.
This Shroud of Commerce shrouds meaning.
In the technology of documentary genocide
in the destructive bonanza of the industrial age—
declare the death of planet
as it passes through a sound speed gradient
comes out on the other side
a lost echo of human greed
repea t in g
Each splinter of language
bent in complicated formulas of inference
as fog forgets then remembers form.
But we find measure in metaphor
vibration earth timbre.
Amid endless metric errors
of science or prayer
speak the ninety-nine names for god:
Gizhe-manidoo, Great Spirit, or longing,
Knower of Subtleties,
trembling aspen, the sung bones of salmon,
the sacred hair bundles of women,
this edible landscape—
aki, nabi, ishkode, noodin,
the ten little winds of our whirled fingertips,
this round dance of the seasons—
the ineffable flourishing.
With mind as holy wind
and voice a frog’s bellowous night song
Here sandhill cranes mark sky.
If the measure is life—
their clan legs the length of forever.
Here mirror of lake a canvas of belief.
If the measure is life—
refraction the trigger of all knowing.
Now we place aseema,
the fragrant tobacco bodies of our relatives.
A sung offering.
To make the tattered whole.
A question of survival.
The measure is life.
A Water Poem for Remembering
Yes, it’s true I speak ill of the living
in coded ways divorced from the dead.
Why Lyla June fasts on capitol steps.
Why Native women disappear like rabbits
reappear in rivers wrapped in death scarves.
A leader’s slight of voice a disgrace—
we’ve been magicked before into war.
Why we sing mikwendam*—even now
remember. On the coldest day of January
gather near ancestral waters, Michigami
(where the Milwaukee, Menominee,
& Kinnickinnic rivers meet like sisters)
where conical mounds still rise on bluffs
story good pathways—bold and blue as nibi.
* mikwendam: remember.
“Because We Come From Everything”
for Juan Felipe Herrera
Because every earthdiver nation somersaults in origin waters
I claim the holy swimming—dark becoming we share.
Because all the begets and begotten separate by sect
I smudge every line feet dancing each side, erase the divide.
Because we come from everything
from copper earth and the untranslated songs of air
from deep and ancient fires burning now in each traveler’s eye
from water’s fluid whispers and uncounted beats of silence
the held breath
between border and freedom
between wave and shore
between boat and land
between leaving and arriving.
Because we come from everywhere
from White Earth and Somalia, from Yemen and Cuba and the Yucatan
our mythic pockets stuffed with blessings for safe passage.
Because alphabet measures of entry and exit
because documents: CDIB Passport Visa DACA Green Card,
block barricade segregate fence enclose—
because directives executive orders
because paper decrees say detain say deport.
Look in the mirror and say Halt!You are under arrest. There must be a law.
because within your bodies illegal blood migrates
because air sneaks through narrow passages
because water seeps into every pore—
build a wall! remove the bad elements, keep nasty out.
Because color-coded dolls and pop-gun mentality teach empire
Because the tweeting talleys of alternative fact infect like plague
Because for some fantasized greatness equals uniform whiteness
Because power, greed, and fascism live on the same block
Because good fences make better metaphors than neighbors
I say wrong to “right-of-way,” no eminent domain, no wall.
Because I breathe in your air, you breathe in mine
You give me your breath, I give you mine
Because we share the same elemental dependence
belonging together to this alive place—aki, nabi, noodin, ishkode
earth water air fire and the blessed arrival and departure of seasons
the comings and goings of each animal relative
skies hung now with bineshiinyag* winged songs of return
no paper trail of identity; only this—
the essential migration of all being.
Because we come from everywhere
We claim this safe earth for all,
in every language—Anishinaabemowin, Arabic, Español, Braille, Dakota,
English—we say provide shelter, grant a haven
name me a sanctuary city.
* bineshiinyag: birds
The Solace of Forgotten Races
Once more ogitchidaa* light pipes:
fragrant ink snaking into atmosphere,
a mark upon the solstice sky—ascending
audible as December deer sign.
While today the dow rises falls rises,
truckdrivers sleep to idling engines—
an oasis between eighteen-hour shifts,
and America revs her biofuel frenzy
to conjure from a politician’s hat
bypass after DOT bypass, this sleight
of hand, progressive contracted erasure
of rice beds, sheep pastures, clapboard family homes,
and the riverwest Red Owl.
Now in the quiet of the archival moon,
the lost tribes of many nations gather
decipher mythic glyphs hidden
beneath the folded corners of oversized books.
Skillfully we levitate the ochre—ancient
stories meant to be burned painted sung.
Medicinal plants, shields, eclipsed dances,
assembled here in sweetgrass fields of the forgotten.
Outside the bleeping reach of GPS geocache,
beyond the longing of a drive-by economy,
under cover of the intelligentsias’ “folk culture”—
a healing drum, the scent of cedar
and origin fires still copper with life.
* ogitchidaa: warriors.
The Way We Love Something Small
Vowel sounds from a land
language not yet lost:
My tongue an island, too
swimming where Miigis ** rises.
This ache tiny but growing—
the place I keep it.
* Mooningwanekaaning-minis: Mooningwanekaaning means “home of the golden-breasted flicker” and Minis means “island”. This is the Anishinaabemowin name for Madeline Island.
** Miigis: This refers both to a cowrie shell and a Mide shell. The great cowrie/Miigis figures in the story of Ojibwe migration. It is said to have risen out of the water, appeared providing both light and warmth and guiding the people on their journey.
when poling arms groan
like autumn winds through white pine.
Old rhythms find the hands
bend and pound the rice,
rice kernels falling
falling onto wooden ribs
canoe bottoms filling with memories—
new moccasins dance the rice
huffs of spirit wind lift and carry the chaff
blown like tired histories
from birchbark winnowing baskets.
by pounds, seasons, or generations
lean slivers of parched grain
settle brown and rich
tasting of northern lakes
* Manoominike-giizis:the full moon of ricing, occuring in August or September.
For more about Kimberly M. Blaeser
Interview on her creative process, Wisconsin DPI, 2015.
“Rosetta Stone, Two” and “The Dignity of Gestures” & Picto-Poem “Eloquence of Aki.” About Place Journal: Dignity as an Endangered Species in the 21st Century. Ed. Pam Uschuk, Cindy Fuhrman, & Maggie Miller. May 2019.
Radio Poetry Performance, “A Song for Giving Back,” at “Making Waves: Live in Milwaukee,” To the Best of Our Knowledge, May 05, 2018.
Mâ y´u̲, hñähñu. Dí ofo,ga´tho to dí handi ha mâ hai, dra mengu: Nts´o̲tk´ani, mâ hai, mâ b´atha, dí ne ga xia´i ga´tho te ma na rä hñäki rä hñähñu, n´e te ma rä njohya ngetho dí b´u̲hu̲ ko rä zi mäka hai, dí ne ga xia´i te dí handi; rä zäna, rä hyadi, rä ndähi, yä tso̲, n´e ga´tho too b´ u̲hue ko rä zi mäka hai.
My root, hñähñu. I am from that land where the cactus sprouts, the tzik’iä, through the word, I wish to share with you, the gaze of a ñähñu. I am Ûrosha.
Digepu̱, ho̱nse̲ xini
ha ra hyaznä
ya da dega ya xi
gí udihu̱ ra ñu ya te
gí nu̱´mi ra huähi
gí handi ra ´bahi
gí numañho ra zi Zänä
gí handi ra mothe
ya hñe dega ra hya´tsi.
Ha ra hño̱mi dega mbonthi
ha ya ´ye n´e ya ´yot´i
ra ´bifi dega za
Ra ndähi bi njone
ha ra nt´o̱ts´e ra ya xi
ha ra nt´o̱ts´e ra ya do
ha ra nt´o̱ts´e ra dega ra nespi
Ra nthuhu ya xi
ra nthuhu mâ hnini
ri noya ntu̱ngi
bi ja ndunthi
ha nuna ra xímhai
¡Ra hña ri ´bu̱i!
ra ndähi da njone,
ya hme mâ ´yu̲, ¡ri te!
The faces of my roots
At times, only at times
in the brightness of the Moon
the eyes of the leaves
mark the path of things
look at the milpa,
look to the palm tree,
look to the Moon,
look to the well,
the everyday mirrors.
By the slope of the hill
decrease their fatigue
among rain and drought
the smoke of the firewood.
The wind whispers,
to the ears of leaves,
to the ears of rocks,
to the ear of the kitchen fire.
The song of the leaves,
the song of my people
its voice, flies lightly
Do you hear it?
Do you feel it?
Do you live it?
Its language still breathes!
the wind has whispered,
the faces of my roots, they belong to you!
Hintó pädi tema da ja,
pe ga´tho ra jä´i,
bi ma ha
Ya hña hindí ne ra nxui
ya nthuhu, embagí ge ra zi du ma da ehe
ha ya hnini mi jo´o ra jä´i…
Ha ra mfeni ja ya mfädi,
n´e ya hogä te,
ha nun´a ra mähets´i,
ra hyadi bi u´ti ya ´ñu:
ya te, ya tsintsu̱ n´e ya ´boza,
habu̱ into´ó bi ñä,
bi xikägi ya zi mäka te.
Ya zi mäka te,
ha nun´a ya zi da ha ya mähets´
bí tutuab´´i ra ndâhi.
Nubya ra m´u̱ ra hai, xá nk´ant´i.
In thalamus of uncertainty
time stopped us,
We made nooks.
Whisperings avoided the night
noise of sirens, foretold death
desolate streets, piercing absences...
the warmth in the word,
in heaven waterfalls,
the sun showed paths:
insects, birds, trees,
after our silence,
they uncovered their mystery.
in the eye of the skyes,
sings the wind.
It is still spring.
Ri täki ra de̲thä,
ri häni ra hats´i...
´Ramba ra ´be̲fi;
N´a ra ndähi
ra hoga njut´i
ha ra b´ o̲ts´e
pa ri xudi
ra xi hmutha.
They welcome dawn…
An autumnal breeze
of the future.
xâhmä gi o̲de
pa gi ja ra njohya.
Ngu rä do̲ nithu̲ ´mnxi,
ngu rä do̲ ní´bást´ä,
ngu rä rä do̲ nikamiñ´o,
ya mfeni bi ja ham´u̲
ya hneí dega ya tso̲
ge hingi hueti,
ngu ya beni
Nuni bi hoki
ya b´et´e rä dänjua
njabu̲ mâ xuxu
ko ndunthi ya mädi
n´e ko ndunthi ya njohya,
nuni bi hoka
ra b´e̲ fi
ko ya kähäkamiñ´o,
pa da peni ya dänjua
ge nuni da b´et´e,
nunä rä do̲ni
da donibye ha mâ b´atha,
ha mâ B´atha rä B´ot´ähi.
When you dedicate yourself
to the task
of the subtle
One can perceive
of your heart
to be the scent of happiness.
Like a flower of biznaga,
like a flower of garambullo
or a flower of cardon
in a dance of stars,
that do not die out
like the memory
of my grandma Juliana.
Weaving the maguey fiber,
to permeate it with love.
the prickly pear of camhiño
to wash the maguey fiber
that she used to weave,
blooms in my valley,
in the Valle del Mezquital.
Di ne ga
¡Oh, xâhmä nuga dra ndähi!
Ko xe̲di n ́e xá te
ha nun ́a râ mahets ́í
nuga ga ja ndunthi ya guí
ha nun ́a ́yót ́ä haí.
¡Zäge nun ́a ra ́batha ya ja ndunthi ya te!
¡Di te̲ntho nun ́a mâ zi ja ́í
hinda ma de nuua mâ hnini!
Oh, if I were wind!
Fleeting and ungraspable
in the hole of the sky
I would drag clouds
to this thirsty land.
How fertile would this valley be!
How far would then
the departure of my people be!
December twenty second, forty five people
in a day of prayer and fasting for peace.
In the jungle sounds of goat’s horn.
The night turned pale.
The moon did not want to be a witness.
Nocturnal breeze, splashed with blood.
Men, women, and children massacred.
¡Chenalhó, Chenalhó, Chenalhó!
After the Sun rise,
“the day that was day,
dark phase of pain
of a community.
Train of waves demanding justice.
¡Chenalhó, Chenalhó, Chenalhó!
Time was extinguishing them.
Voices of justice, will they get lost in the winter?
¡Chenalhó, Chenalhó, Chenalhó!
¡Chenalhó, Chenalhó, Chenalhó!
* The Acteal massacre occurred on December 22, 1997, in Chiapas.
Rosa Maqueda Vicente leads community workshops. Rosa has published essay(“Ecos de nuestras lenguas originarias, 2017), short story (“Ar thuhu ya gigi” / “El canto de los grillos” y “Ar `mui ya deni”/“El origen de las luciérnagas”, 2018), and poetry formats (Originaria, 2019). Her stanzas have been included in A donde la luz llegue (2018), Ocho entre ocho Hidalgo: Crítica, crónica y comunidad (2019), Xochitlajtoli Poesía Contemporánea en Lenguas Originarias (2019), Antología Originaria (2019), Aún queda la noche (2019), and “La Mexicana”, suite for Orquesta de Jazz y Arpa (2019). Regarding Cultural Dissemination, has collaborated in Revista MEUI from this side. Her work has been published in Gaceta UAQ, Difusión, Historia, Identidad, Querétaro, Qro. UAQ. Dya yu̱hu̱ / Somos raíces.
About the translator
Carolina Bloem teaches Latin American Studies and Spanish at Salt Lake Community College. Her research focuses on present-day Wayuu oraliture and its impact both in local and international communities. Past research interests include travel writing in 19th-Century Colombia and Venezuela and conduct manuals and their biopolitical role in society.
Lukas Avendaño (1977) is a muxe artist and anthropologist from the Tehuantepec isthmus in Oaxaca. In his work, he explores notions of sexual, gender, and ethnic identity through muxeidad. Avendaño describes muxeidad as “un hecho social total”, a total social fact, performed by people born as men who fulfill roles that are not typically considered masculine. Though it would be easy to make an equivalency between gay and muxe, or transgender and muxe, it can best be described as a third gender specific to Be’ena’ Za’a (Zapotec) culture. Muxes are a community of Indigenous people who are assigned male at birth and take on traditional women’s roles presenting not as women but as muxes. Avendaño’s work is a reflection on muxeidad, sexuality, eroticism, and the tensions that exist around it. Though muxeidad is understood and generally accepted as part of Be’ena’ Za’a society, it exists within a structure that privileges fixed roles for men and women, respectively. It is important to note that his work provides a reflection on muxeidad from within rather than without, that is, he critically explores what it means to be muxe as muxe himself, providing an alternative to academic analyses that can exoticize.
In Réquiem para un alcaraván, Avendaño reflects on traditional women’s roles, particularly in rites and ceremonies of the Tehuantepec region (a wedding, mourning, a funeral), many of which are denied to muxes. For the wedding ceremony, the artist prepares the stage by decorating for the occasion, and then blindfolded, selects a member of the audience who presents as male to marry him. Such a union would not be well regarded in traditional Be’ena’ Za’a society, even though same-sex marriage was recently legalized in Oaxaca, an initiative spearheaded by a muxe scholar and activist, Amaranta Gómez Regalado, in August 2019.
On May 10, 2018 in Tehuantepec, his younger brother, Bruno Avendaño, disappeared during a brief vacation from his duties in the navy. He hasn’t been found since and the artist has used his platform as an international artist to bring attention to the issue of the disappeared in Mexico. Other artists and activists join him as he travels around the world to show his work and create spaces where he can ask for answers at Mexican consulates and embassies for his brother as well as the 60,000+ individuals that have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade and a half.
Rita holds a doctorate in Spanish with a specialization in Latin American Literature from the University of Toronto. She is a professor of languages in the School of Liberal Studies at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. Her research examines contemporary Maya literature from a cultural and gender studies perspective. She recently co-authored a book Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (March 2019) with Paul M. Worley, in which they privilege the Maya category ts’íib over constructions of the literary in order to reveal how Maya peoples themselves conceive of cultural production. https://ritampalacios.com
Raquel Antun Tsamaraint is a Shuar poet, originally from the Provence of Morona Santiago (Ecuadorian Amazon). She is a native speaker of Shuar Chicham, a language that she protects and spreads through education and literature. Anents are prayer songs that bring about action, strong words that the Shuar elders have cultivated from time immemorial. The Kichwa poet, Yana Lema, who collaborates with Siwar Mayu and has compiled the collection, Ñawpa pachamanta purik rimaykuna / Antiguas palabras andantes. Poesía de los pueblos y nacionalidades indígenas del Ecuador (2016), sent us these words to introduce the work of Raquel Antun Tsamaraint:
“The forms of relations between all living beings in the jungle are so very deep and close. In the voice of Raquel, we encounter the coexistence between humans and all that exists in the forest. The life of plants and sacred animals are interlaced with the lives of humans, whether man or woman. Even so, this poet shares with us not only the sense of her nation, Shuar, but also of the Shuar woman. I can say that her verses are anent, sacred songs, new songs guided by the ancestral anent that the women of her people have sung and continue to sing. She speaks of caves, of food, of the jaguar, of tobacco, of the peccaries – and in all of this, she speaks with a woman’s sense. For this reason it gives me great pleasure to present the poetry of Raquel Antun, a voice at once coloquial and direct, while at the same time deep and loving.
Lorrie Jayne, a collaborator in Siwar Mayu, teaches Spanish, Portuguese, and Personal Narrative in the Languages and Literatures Department at UNCA in Asheville, North Carolina. She lives with her husband and daughters in the Appalachian Mountains where she enjoys plants, people, and poetry.
Juan G. Sánchez Martínez grew up in Bakatá, Colombian Andes. He dedicates both his creative and scholarly writing to indigenous cultural expressions from Abiayala (the Americas.) His book of poetry, Altamar, was awarded in 2016 with the National Prize Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia. He collaborates and translates for Siwar Mayu. Recent work: Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.)
The art of Filogonio Naxín bets upon the freedom of shapes. Reaching beyond galleries, museums and art schools, Naxín dislocates definitions of “traditional” and visualizes bridges in oil, acrylic, and watercolor with which he crosses from the Mazatec language to the techniques of Western art.
Filogonio Naxín is from Mazatlán Villa de Flores, Cañada Region, Mazatec territory in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. He is a native speaker of the Mazatec language. He has a B.A in Visual and Plastic Arts from the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez, Oaxaca. Currently he illustrates books as well as offers painting, drawing and engraving workshops. Nixín has had more than 20 individual exhibitions, among which showings at the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca-IAGO, the Torre del Reloj Gallery in Polanco, and the INAH National Museum of World Cultures stand out. In 2015, the National Institute of Indigenous Languages published his bilingual book (Mazatec and Spanish), Minu xi kuatsura chichjána, Kui anima xi bantiya yajura / Qué cosa dice mi tata, Seres que se transforman. https://www.facebook.com/FilogonioNaxin
Naxín’s paintings gravitate around characters and landscapes in which human-beings, non-human-beings and more-than-human-beings merge. His last name, Naxín, means the nawal-spirit-horse, a presence in many of his canvases. In the indeterminacy of forms, these paintings invite you to enter a web of beings: a dog is a deer that is a whale that is a mouse that is a dinosaur that is a city. The “holy children” (as María Sabina called the medicinal mushrooms that grow in the mountains of Oaxaca) stand colorfully in this net that binds defined shapes and mystery.
At some point in her experience, the viewer may ask herself: Are these images fantasy? But how can I distinguish “fantasy” from “reality”? Or are these visions another way to represent what has always been there? In any case, it seems that the only way of being in this art is “being-in-between”: as in “Ngansudie / Earth”, where the body of the city is the stomach of a deer in which the Milky Way can be found; or as in “Ién Nima / Mazatec”, where the body of a dog is a ladder standing as a tree. Being-in-between levels, being-in-between bodies.
Suddenly, the viewer transits from amazement to laughter, as Naxín’s aesthetics reveal the fragility of human beings when they believe they are just “individuals”. In “Earth Mother ”, the seed, the corn, the flowing water are spontaneous traces of a hand/mountain full of life.
Naxín’s art has been said to be “surreal”, bringing to mind André Breton’s famous 1938 comment on Mexico: “Mexico is the most surreal country in the world”. However, in this context, what some see as surreal, borrowed from the unconscious or the absurd, is perhaps the opposite: an ancient/contemporary/conscious creativity like the one cultivated for milenia by many indigenous peoples from Abya-Yala (the Americas). Here, at Siwar Mayu, are some examples of this art. Filogonio Naxín’s work is an invitation for new generations to remember and daydream this fabric between languages, aesthetics and worlds.