Manuel Tzoc Bucup’s Queer Poetry

© Photography by Fabrizio Quemé

Introduction by Rita Palacios

Poems translated from Spanish by Paul Worley

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.

An example of “texts without borders” © Ediciones la Maleta Ilegal

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.

atómica (atomic) © Manuel Tzoc Bucup

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.

Wuj © Manuel Tzoc Bucup, 2019
Polen © Manuel Tzoc Bucup, 2014
Polen © Manuel Tzoc Bucup, 2014

Fresa y fracaso  © Manuel Tzoc Bucup

“Strawberries and Failure” © Paul Worley

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.


Looking at the things in my bathroom

I ask myself about the little bullshit in them

those cynical bodies of the future

washing themselves with unscented gel soap

Exactly boy

we are bodies with no future


washing and dirtying our hearts, wanting

to write from the depths of the abyss

Rebuilding the crime of day-to-day life

hugging our favorite book

watering a red poppy

looking out at the oil infested water

hugging a dead body, still warm

caressing stray dogs

finally and at last

this is the bullshit of our happy years

The day’s crime section

full of domestic and work incidents

are we alone or do we feel alone?

the truth is always singular

I can’t speak for you, girl

I’m sorry

even if you hate me

I’ll disappear any minute

to rebuild the cursed history of our lives


Right now

you are the only thing that exists

Star of Loneliness

you’ll keep us company

these nights filled with guns fired into the air

nights of collective isolation

of bodies pursued and forgotten

of radiant and free flamingos

swimming in urban rivers

Nights of solitary mirrors


Note: this was written on the first day of the stay at home order in Guatemala, the 22 of March 2020


Chew on the memory


the ear of corn toasted by the fire

living ash


The world and its mundane dangers

is outside, hypochondriac girl

(it’s even inside)

waiting for you

calling you

you can’t keep traveling through the universe

on that treadmill

germs smile back at you from everything 

you are terrified of opening the door to go out

of touching your friends’ skin 

of penetrating your lovers’ flesh

The sharp corners of things threaten you

you’ve made a cave in your wounded heart

you fear the spores floating in front of your crazed eyes

breathe and feel the pure, infected air

breathe and feel and ask to be calmer

Walk and breathe deeply my hypochondriac friend

and everything will be fine!

Or maybe not

Or maybe not


Everyone in this story will get hurt

with a dead body in tow

with a lover in the middle of the pandemic



the same




bored to death

more alone than ever

more connected than ever

overworking ourselves virtually

or eternally waiting, resume in hand, for a reply

This story

this path



bad or good luck

our daily walks on sidewalks of blood and green grass

films of memories and things we’ve forgotten

and salt water


anxiously awaiting

our defeated bodies

Sad boy’s body, Polen, Wuj, Atomic © Manuel Tzoc Bucup

For more about Manuel Tzoc

Latin American Literature Today: 4 Poems by Manuel Tzoc

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)

Ediciones la Maleta Ilegal

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).

Edinson Quiñones: “Intention begins in the seed”

 By Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Translated from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne

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.”   

An Artist on the Margins © Popayork Residencia Artística

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.

If it’s Bayer, it’s Good © Edinson Quiñones. Berlin, 2016. Mario Kreuzberg Gallery. 

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 the Casa 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.

Quimbaya region. Colombia. 

Nariño region, Colombia. 

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.

The Wound Heals and the Scar Remains, Scarification God of Coca © Edinson Quiñones.

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.”

Violent Games. Not Everything Is a Game © Edinson Quiñones, 2019. 

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.

Aliento y suspiro con Taita Misak Lorenzo © Edinson Quiñones, 2019.  

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.”

Popayork Artistic Residences

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.

Performances compilation / compilación © Edinson Quiñones. 

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.

¡Jayaya Jayaya Jayaya!


For more about Edinson Quiñones

La ventana invisible documentary

For more about the Manuel Quintín Lame Exhibition / Collective 83

Colectivo 83– Curaduría Salón Internacional Manuel Quintín Lame (2014-2020) 

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).

Mikhu Paul. Three poems from 20th Century PowWow Playland

Mikhu Paul (1958-) is a Wolastoq poet who lives in Portland, Maine, USA, where she is an educator, artist and activist. Of mixed ancestry, she is a member of Kingsclear First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada. Her collection 20th Century PowWow Playland was published in 2012 by Bowman Books and poems have been published in various journals. She is also a multi-media artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries, and auctioned off to fundraise for charitable causes.

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.

Mikhu Paul © 20th Century PowWow Playland (Bowman Books, 2012)

Introduction and selection by Sophie M. Lavoie

Mother Tongue

Stolen child, stranger with no name.

Her mouth has been sewn shut.

The songs, on their long flight, 

years upon years, birth upon death, lost.

Mute witness, what silence is this?

Unfortunate demise, flesh and bone,

language we lived by, 

scattered like pollen dust,

the trace of finest powder.

Possessed, our teeth clack and grind,

purpled lips slap and curl, a strangled wailing:

tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia.

One thousand ways to kill a thing, and

only one true way to save it.

Our words, shape of sounds no longer familiar, 

buried at Carlisle.

Oh, Grandmother, we are wandering now. 

The map obscured, ripped and bloodied.

We speak a strange tongue.

We are ghosts, haunting ourselves.


These hybrids roam from Mexico to Montreal,

honey-dipped, tea stained. 

Their green eyes draw in light, glitter,

shards of broken mirrors.

Now we got seven years bad luck, 

cousin, at least seven winters penance.

We are, all of us, cast on a burning wind.

Prayer words rise and fall, 

red leaves Split from an ancient tree, 

White feathers torn from a dove’s wing.

No cypher but the beating heart, 

encased in this new-made flesh, 

pounding ancestral rhythms.

In a thousand years, whose captive

face will hover, imprisoned in silvered glass?

What name will you call her, 

whose eyes were your own, staring back,

as the mirror shattered and

the tree bore this new fruit?

20th Century PowWow Playland

In 1920, a centennial celebration, time measured,

commemorating that moment

when everything changed.

A separation, renaming territory, viciously tamed.

Carved and claimed, settled, the state of Maine.

Two faces stare out, children, sepia-toned, museum

quality, pressed to pages.

Boy and girl frown before the camera’s eye,

rigid lens of history, a dangerous weapon.

Thirty years since that last great dance in

the Dakotas, when bullets 

traveled faster than the light 

that traps these two.

Gathering ghosts, supplicants buried their hearts,

died on frozen ground.

Captive light blinds those young eyes, 

lays bare the half-grimaced smiles.

Gone, the birchbark wigwam, 

the buffalo hide tipi. 

Backdropped by a canvas tent, the boy

dimpled cheeks smeared with “war” paint,

stands beside his sister, cousin.

Her banded braids hung with some cheap feather.

Children pose now, 

war replaced by pageantry.

The wolf a legend, wearing

the skin of a leashed dog,

and the cold warrior’s eye, now closed,

steady hand empty, his battle cry

now silent in this fading picture,

this 20th century powwow playland.

More information on Mikhu Paul

Dawnland Voices. Writing of Indigenous New England.

“With Mazatec earth and pigment”, René Alvarado Martínez

Metamorphosis © René Alvarado Martínez.

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.

Internal Cosmic Trip © René Alvarado Martínez.

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.

René Alvarado Martínez

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.

Corn that Glimmers: Corn of Gold © René Alvarado Martínez.

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.”

Flowing in the Sacred © René Alvarado Martínez.

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.

Trip to the Origin © René Alvarado Martínez.

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.

Being of Light © René Alvarado Martínez.

René explains:

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

Filogonio Naxín. Woven Beings

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.

María Sabina. Spirit Woman  © Nicolás Echeverría, 1979

“In my mind’s eye”, Kitaay Bizhikikwe/Amanda Myers

In the words of the artist:

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. 

Kitaay Bizhikikwe/Amanda Myers © “They Know Better” 2017, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 36”

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. 

Miigwetch, Kitaay bizhikikwe  

Kitaay Bizhikikwe/Amanda Myers website

“Balance on the verge of vision”, Kimberly M. Blaeser

Kimberly Blaeser served as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-16. She is the author of four poetry collections—most recently Copper Yearning and Apprenticed to Justice; and editor of Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry. A bi-lingual collection of her poetry, Résister en dansee/Dancing Resistance will be published in France in 2020. An Anishinaabe activist and environmentalist from White Earth Reservation, Blaeser is a Professor at UW—Milwaukee and MFA faculty member for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Her photographs, picto-poems, and ekphrastic poetry have been featured in various exhibits including “Ancient Light” and “Visualizing Sovereignty.” She lives in the woods and wetlands of Lyons Township, Wisconsin and, for portions of each year, in a water-access cabin adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness chasing poems, photos, and river otters—sometimes all at once.

Artist Statement

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.

Wellspring: Words from Water, Nibii-wiiyawan Bawaadanan/Dreams of Water Bodies, Poem for a Tattered Planet: If the Measure is Life, “Because We Come From Everything”, The Solace of Forgotten Races, Manoominike-giizis © Kimberly M. Blaeser. Cooper Yearning. Holy Cow Press, 2019. 

A Water Poem for Remembering © Kimberly M. Blaeser. Split This Rock, 2020. 

The Way We Love Something Small © Kimberly M. Blaeser. Unpublished.

Wellspring: Words from Water

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.

Art by Kimberly Blaeser

Nibii-wiiyawan Bawaadanan *


agaashiinyi memiishanowed bagizod




dimii-miinaandeg gagwedweyamban.


ninii-chiwaawaabiganoojinh akiing

ogichidaa Anishinaabe

awesiinaajimowinong, aadizookaanag

dash debaajimojig onisaakonanaanaawaa

nengaaj enji-mamaanjiding


miidash gakina Nibiishinaabeg


Waabandan negawan

aah sa ongow eta


minwaabandaan aakiing maampii



Wazhashk waabamang, niikaaninaanig

zhiibaasige zaaga’iganan gaye ziibiinsan

mashkiig zhawendang





agaashiinyag memiishanowewaad begizojig


Nangodinong enji-nibii-bawaajiganan

gidimagozijig aakiing endaaying


dash nagamoying




* 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

might believe.

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

the memory

the telling

the hope

the dive

of sleek-whiskered-swimmers

who mark a dark path.

And sometimes in our water dreams

we pitiful land-dwellers

in longing

recall, and singing

make spirits ready

to follow:


**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.

But beyond
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,
confounds measure 
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
or sound
my frequency a constant 
my voice
bending at angles
to become whole in another surface— 
say a poem.

Say a poem
perpendicular to the boundary
of meaning,
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 
but covenant.
Sacred where.
When neither image nor voice 
will twin itself,
In the thick moist    cloud
of being
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
repeating itself
repeating itself
repea t in g

Each splinter of language
bent    in complicated formulas of inference 
of ownership
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, 
braided sweetgrass,
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 
we arrive.
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. 
Only this.

Now we place aseema,
the fragrant tobacco bodies of our relatives.
A sung offering.
To make the tattered whole. 
A question of survival.

Of correlation.

                       Of vision.

The measure is life.
 Apprenticed to Justice“. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, 2016.

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 
document power 
because documents: CDIB Passport Visa DACA Green Card,
block barricade segregate fence enclose—
Because bans 
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:

Mooningwanekaaning-minis. *

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.

Manoominike-giizis *

Ricing moon

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.

Now numbered

by pounds, seasons, or generations

lean slivers of parched grain

settle brown and rich

tasting of northern lakes

of centuries.

* 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.

It is still spring. Rosa Maqueda Vicente

Boxhuada © Rosa Maqueda

© Original poems and pictures by Rosa Maqueda Vicente

© Translations by Carolina Bloem

Mâ y´u̲

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

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.
Valle del Mezquital © Rosa Maqueda

Ya hme mâ ´yu̲

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.
Ra te
         ra te.
Ha ra hño̱mi dega mbonthi
bí ntsaya
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
                    r´a y´o
                 bi ja ndunthi
                    ya mfädi
                ha nuna ra xímhai
¿Gí  o̱de?
¿Gí tsa?
¿Gí  ´bu̱i?
¡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
                  this land.
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! 
Detha © Rosa Maqueda

Haxä tso̱o̱

Hintó pädi tema da ja,
ra te,
pe ga´tho ra jä´i,
bi ma ha
ya nstaya.
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.

Haxä tso̱o̱

In thalamus of uncertainty
time stopped us, 
We made nooks.
Whisperings avoided the night
noise of sirens, foretold death
desolate streets, piercing absences...

                                         Memory keeps
                               the warmth in the word,
                                 in heaven waterfalls,
                                 the sun showed paths:
                                insects, birds, trees, 
                                    after our silence, 
                         they uncovered their mystery.

                 Neverending fragrances, 
                in the eye of the skyes, 
                    sings the wind.
                  It is still spring. 
Donikamiñ’o © Rosa Maqueda


Ri täki ra de̲thä,
ri häni ra hats´i...
             Ri hnu̲ti
                  ra te.
´Ramba ra ´be̲fi;
                n´e mu.
N´a ra ndähi
degä ñ´ot´i
      bi thogi
ra hoga njut´i
ha ra b´ o̲ts´e
      ri  e̲gi
      pa ri xudi
      ra xi hmutha.


   Shelling corn
They welcome dawn…
      In looks
   one glimpses,
In harvesting;
         and squash.
An autumnal breeze
shows through;
                  the seed
              of the future.
Flor de Biznaga © Rosa Maqueda

Nänä Juliana

      gi bense̲,
      ya mfeni
      ga tat´i,
xâhmä gi o̲de
 ri ndäte
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
              mâ xuxu.
Nuni bi hoki
ya b´et´e rä  dänjua
njabu̲ mâ xuxu
da hoki
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. 

Nana Juliana

When you dedicate yourself
      to the task
      of the subtle 
      of thinking,
memories emerge.
One can perceive
         the beat
of your heart
to be the scent of happiness.
Like a flower of biznaga,
         like a flower of garambullo
               or a flower of cardon
memories converge;
in a dance of stars,
       that do not die out
       like the memory
       of my grandma Juliana.

Weaving the maguey fiber,
      weaving slowly,
           to permeate it with love.
She used
the prickly pear of camhiño 
               to wash the maguey fiber
               that she used to weave,
     blooms in my valley,
            in the Valle del Mezquital.
Ma hai © Rosa Maqueda

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!

Acteal *

       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,
was night”
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: Reflections from muxeidad

© Mario Patiño

By Rita Palacios

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. 

© Mario Patiño

For More about muxeidad and Lukas Avendaño

Muxes – Authentic, Intrepid Seekers of Danger © Alejandra Islas

About Rita Palacios

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.

Raquel Antun Tsamaraint. Anent Verses

© Picture by Mario Faustos / EL COMERCIO

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.

¡Yuminsajme Raquel!”.

Raquel Antun © Ñawpa pachamanta purik rimaykuna / Antiguas palabras andantes. Poesía de los pueblos y nacionalidades indígenas del Ecuador, 2016 / © Translations by Lorrie Jayne and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez 


Winchar winchar waintjai

Panki, napi, uunt yawa, churuwia aintsank

Arutam wantinkiamuri

Micha, micha jawai

Nakarkum pujumame

Karar iiame

Kakarmaram surame

Wainkiajme, aintme, amini wekasajai, mejentrusume, miniaktrusume!

Yapir nukartusume, esaintme!

Yampinkia nuwaitjai!

Natem umaruitjai!


Thousand of lights, lit,

Various shapes: boas, snakes, tigers, eagles,

The world of the Arutam spirits,

And I quaked: what cold!

You were lying in wait,

Watching my dreams, 

Your claw’s gash gave me power,

I found you, followed, walked towards you, you sniffed me, you held me,

Licked my face, nipped me.

I was the Tigress Yampinkia

I had ingested Natem.

* Natem: ayawaska, sacred plant that is ingested to have visions.


Nantutiniam tsankjai uumpuim nua jawai.

Anentjai Nunkuin, mash takusan tusan séame.

Nawanka tsank umar kanar uunt jastiniun iiawai. 

Atash yawajai iiawai

Nantiar, nantiar iiawai. 

Nunkuin iiawai.

Nua tsankramuiti. 


By the light of the moon, you blow upon her womb–she becomes woman.

With your sacred songs, you ask Nunkui to fill her with health, 

prosperity and abundance

The girl dreams, dreams of grandeur and prosperity.

She dreams of hens and dogs,

She dreams of mountains and valleys,

She dreams of Nunkui, Earth Mother.

Celebration of the tobacco woman!


Etsa taramtai anentrajai, umar wakeruta jati tusan nampeajai, 

Jikia jikiamu jatrawa, umar wake mesempra pujutrawa, tu


Anentrakui panki aintsanak aminin penkan wekaja. Wake

mesempra pujutrawa. Maru, maru enentaintrawa. 


I sing when the sun is dying,

These rays of death inject my melody with love and the 

miracle of love occurs, fine vibrations reach the heart of my Belóved 

inject his soul with passion.

My song reaches you and wraps you in colors, like the anaconda, 

wrapped in you my sacred song will walk and you will not forget me,

you will always have me near,  Belóved mine.


Yampinkia nayaimpiniam wakaruiti yaa aintsank.

Nayaimpiniam charip chichainiakuinkia nii ainiawai nunkanam

tarattsa wakeruiniak.

Yampinkiaka yaa yunkunmirin yuiniawai, niinkia winia apachur

ainiawai, karar wainianiawai. 


And then the jaguars climb up to the sky turned into stars.

If suddenly the firmament roars, it is they who miss the warmth

of earth.

Sky jaguars eat stardust, they are my grandparents

who guide my dreams.


Intiashin enkema entsanan enkemamiayi, Tsunkijai pujustasa.

Entsanmanka Tsunki iwiaku pujuiniawai, itiur namaksha ajuntain,

itiur jaancha tsuarminiat, tusa unuimiarmiayi.

Tsunki nii kakarmari susaru, chichatainiam, usuknumsha. 

Uwishin jaasmiayi. 


Then, he submerged himself beneath his long black hair and began to breath under

water. He went to the Tsunki kingdom to live as they live. 

He learned that the kingdom of water is wondrous, Tsunki people taught him to heal the sick,  to cure their ailments.

He received from the Tsunki his power, the power that resides in words and saliva.

He became shaman.


Tuntui chichakui jea chicham awai timiajai. Uunt paki matnium 

chicham aujmatkatsar untsummiayi. Kashinkia yurumtsuk 

tsank umartaji, nuaka nijiamanch nawawarti. Ayamtai 

najanatniutji. Paki nakarmainiawai, niisha ijiamaniawai ii jeatin 



Quiet beats from the tuntui- something was happening in the village.

It was the call of Chief Uunt to discuss the peccary hunt. 

Tomorrow we will fast and drink tobacco, he told them, women

will prepare nijiamanch so we can undertake the trip, we will make an

ayamtai in the woods. The peccaries await us – they too

prepare a welcome celebration.  

* Sajino: Pecari tajacu

For more about Raquel Antun Tsamaraint

Raquel Antun on intercultural education

“La tigresa de la cultura Shuar”, Ignacio Espinoza (Proyecto Wakaya

“Raquel Antun, una guardiana de la oralidad” (Diario El Comercio

About the translators

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.)

Filogonio Naxín. Woven Beings

Cabeza de Guajolote / Turkey’s head © Filogonio Naxín

By Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

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
Se tragó el mundo / He swallowed the world © Filogonio Naxín

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.

© Secretaría de Cultura de México

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.

Jkin Chuu Ngasundie / Ground animals © Filogonio Naxín
Tuntsin / Hummingbird © Filogonio Naxín

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.

Ngansundie / Earth © Filogonio Naxín
Ién Nima / Mazatec language / The humble’s tongue © Filogonio Naxín

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. 

La madre tierra / Earth Mother © Filogonio Naxín
Ndiya / Path © Filogonio Naxín

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.

Voz de la montaña / The voice of the mountain © Filogonio Naxín
Pico © Filogonio Naxín

For more about Filogonio Naxín’s art

“Viewing Today’s World Through the Lens of Indigenous Cosmology” by Leigh Thelmadatter: