Around the House. Maya Cú

Original poetry in Spanish from Alrededor de la casa © Maya Cú

Introduction, selection and translation by Gloria E. Chacón and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read the PDF, click HERE

Kaqchikel researcher Aura Estela Cumes explains that paternalistic culturalism in Guatemala represents the Mayan woman as a tourist object, a museum piece, a weaver and guardian of culture, but at the same time separates her from the possibility of being an “epistemic authority.”  Maya Cú captures this sexist paternalism in the following verses:

(...) to be clear:
I am not
an ancestral clay doll
revived by divine breath
of postmodern intellectuals.

Since 1996, Maya Cú has been reminding Guatemalan—and by extension Latin American— society how scared they are to look in the mirror and discover how brown, how cinnamon, how mixed they are, how  “beautifully brown” [they are] (“Rabia / Rage”.) In her essay “Poetas y escritoras mayas de Guatemala: Del silencio a la palabra” (“Mayan Women Poets and Writers from Guatemala: From Silence to Word”) (2016), Cú questions the censorship of colonial institutions (school, family, church) of Indigenous women voices, but also interrogates the self-censorship of Indigenous women. In some cases, Indigenous women do not recognize themselves as writers (84). In Cú’s words, the expectations of editors and academics about Indigeneity (as a rural and ethnic problem) preclude them from recognizing the diversity of contemporary Mayan expressions. The poems that we publish here are a sample of Maya Cu’s latest book, Alredor de la casa (“Around the house”) (La Chifurnia, 2022). 

It was never
more than a shelter
from the outdoors

it had
fragile walls

there we cohabited
my sisters

it was the house
it is the house

root of
a human

and that woman
a column
who refuses
to let it fall

An aseismic house
must have a strong foundation
a deep iron frame

when the earthquake comes,
the house will hardly fall

What if this tenant does not have a good foundation?

Wooden walls
vulnerabile before fire

aluminum walls avert rain
but lock the heat in

cement ceilings and walls
protect from rain, sun, fire

how to avoid loneliness?
how does one defend oneself from sadness?
how to build
kick-proof walls?

who designs houses
that shelter, feed, protect
and provide endless doses
of understanding and tenderness?

For those in the room. Managua, 2002

We live together
we recreate love

we strip
our skins

we listen to each other
we fight
we laugh, we play
we were girls
we cry

we were
the women
from that room
killing borders
a new house
from which we didn't 
want to leave

a refuge
with sisters and mothers
in a constant coven
giving us freedom

There is a lot to do
a lot to do

we will rearrange space

the cardinal points
will be oriented in the direction
of heaven

the moon
will be full
for a long time
the rainy cloud will come
at night
to sleep on the terrace

where will we put
the fog?
the balcony that is
on its way
will gladly share
its flower

you will have an infinite 
to set up
your wildest exhibition

for me
I just want the corner
from where I will
see you
my love
and disarming the world
Where can a young heart go, wounded by distance, melancholy, disdain, if the house is half built? If the walls are fragile and the floor is damp? Seeking refuge without finding it. Leaves running naked, to shelter in other hungry hearts for company.
I aged

pieces of me
scattered throughout

I moved
by inertia

I left seeds
in some eyes
in some bodies

I left
almost empty

now I carry
white hair
nostalgia, pain

I pick up
my pieces
I put them in a bag
and I go out

and I can't find anything
but sadness...
I dreamed
of a house
surrounded by flowers
and tall trees
I only asked for a
roof and floor
I never had it
a provider
of certainty appeared
He daily
next to me
this new house
in mutual discovery
we are laying
the foundations
we make the walls
we share the dream
to put our pieces together
to build a new house
where we will live

Today I undressed
I posed for
the camera
the room  strewn with
clothes throughout
my footprints
when I stopped
I realized
all the mirrors
I found my body
friendly and passionate
and it was enough for me

knows that upon her return
she will open the door
and feel joy to meet you
for coffee
for dipping  bread
in  coffee
to the listen to the radio
and dance to the beat of your song
knows that upon his return
he will remove the wire from the gate
cross the patio to reach
your side
he will greet you happily
because he managed to finish a day’s work
because the earth responds to his care
the sun was benevolent and did not burn his skin
the rain is generous and will fall later
he will show you the best seeds
that he found
for the next sowing
they will eat next to the stone-bench 
beans and hot coffee
corn tortillas from their harvest
and cheese
like them

Elena visits the house


Strange communion with Elena

Did you hear my name?
You looked for it and you preferred it, because you know that here, behind this nomenclature, my soul is waiting for a reunion celebration.
But, the only celebration we put up today is one of tears.
Time and time again, the weeping, why unites our hearts like this? Is our sorrow for these beloved cities so great that it is capable of uniting our distant melancholies?


girls reunion

Painting that afternoon would be fun if Elena was calm enough to pose.
But Elena is a restless girl who bites her nails and spits the waste on the chair. She wets her feet in the firm sand of a sea that cannot be crossed. A sea that erased the way back to the city of our daydream, our dream, our ephemeral root, our space of communion. I, the little sister, watch her carefully, while I wait for time to stop on this piece of beach, asking Yemayá to take care of us, to be our mother, our goddess, our friend, our compass, to return to that city.


The one I’m not

elegance in the word
voice and erudition
corporeal strength
unattainable height
charismatic presence
a story that I would like as my own
feet dancing on the urban cobbled street
sand full of your feet
water full of your fear
lips reciting verses next to Reynaldo

eyes alive of revolution
flashing fingers
mestizo song 
eternal song 
cheerful song
song with tone
song with you
your song
my song
Song  not yet written
half song
song without score
broken song
shared song
song in two rhythms
distant song
sad song without reason
sad permanent weep
never ending pain
intimate pain
pain countering
parallel pain
the one you are not
the one we are



If I ever belonged to someone
it's to you
because you chose me
or because my shadowy female ancestor 
chose you


Grandma whisks cocoa
gathers the fire
secures the ocote-sticks
the girl braids garlic
draws a circle,  and skeletons 
rise dancing at its center
inviting to swing
a song
of few notes
I dance
the mist fills with colors
I rise
the image
is immortalized
behind the door

More about Maya Cú

The Translators

Gloria E. Chacón is Associate Professor in the Literature Department at UCSD. Both her research and teaching focus on indigenous literatures, autonomy, and philosophy. She is the author of Indigenous Cosmolectics: Kab’awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures (2018). She is currently working on her second book tentatively titled Metamestizaje, Indigeneity, and Diasporas: Challenging Cartographies. She is co-editor of Indigenous Interfaces: Spaces, Technology, and Social Networks in Mexico and Central America by Arizona Press(2019). She is also co-editing an anthology Teaching Central American Literature in a Global Context for MLA’s Teaching Options Series. Chacón’s work has appeared in anthologies and journals in Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, and the USA. She has co-edited a special issue on indigenous literature for DePaul University. .\

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, A River of Hummingbirds. Recent works: Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.) He is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, in the Departments of Languages and Literatures, and of American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Alrededor de la casa © Maya Cú ~ Siwar Mayu, April 2022
Introduction, selection and translation © Gloria E. Chacón and Juan G. Sánchez M. 

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