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October 2005

Jaguar Tongues


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

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

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

The Indigenous Literature of the Americas

In late August, Mexico City and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico signed an agreement to teach Náhuatl language and culture to Nahua (Aztec) students in Santa Ana

Opening Poem of the Cantares Mexicanos

Note: This poem was originally written in Classical Náhuatl. It is the first poem in the group known as the "Cantares Mexicanos." The Náhuatl title is "Cuicapeuhcáyotl",


Note: This poem was originally written in Yucatecan Maya. Child Little brother Jaguar race of the indomitable mystical

Nothing Remains Empty

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. Although the subject matter of the following poem is contemporary, the style is traditional. As Juan Gregorio Regino has maintained the

The Moon and the Feather

The moon gave me a feather. In my hand it felt like singing. The moon laughed and told me to learn to sing. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

The Pool

There were many stars in the pool; I asked my father to take them out. He transferred the water drop by drop and put them in my hands. At dawn I wanted to see if he had

The Vampire Bats

The vampire bats and I were waiting for the coming of the night to play with the stars on the patio of the moon. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.  

Long Ago

It has been years, many years, since cats learned to look after little girls. If some bothersome spirit comes near, the cats bristle, give a jump, and the evil spirits are gone.

That Day

That day she arrived with such force that she destroyed with one big blow my loneliness. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

What Are Those Things

-- What are those things that shine in the sky, -- I asked my mother. -- Bees, she answered Every night since then, my eyes eat honey. For the next poem in this sequence,


Now and then I walk backwards. It is my way of remembering. If I only walked forward, I could tell you about forgetting. This last poem in this sequence was originally

Dreams and Memories of a Common Man

Note: This piece was originally written in Náhuatl. Over there, in "The Disenchantment," it was said about the great city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan that, in addition to its beauty, one

The Loss of Our Language

Note: There are fewer than 100 fluent Comanche speakers in the world today. A long time ago when animals could talk, the language of the people was spoken, sweet—like sugar. Today,

Purépecha Mother

Note: This poem was originally written in Purépecha, now often written P'urhépecha. It is not known to be related to any other language. The Purépechas were both


Note: The work was written originally in Yucatecan Maya, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Mexico. Miguel Angel May May, the writer and cultural leader, has been responsible for


Note: This piece was originally written in Yucatecan Maya, and was probably adapted from the oral tradition. The Maya to Spanish translation was done in a collaboration with Miguel Angel May

No One Dies, Life Only Changes

Note: This piece was originally written in Náhuatl. We only change the way we live.... Thus it is explained in the tale of the experience of two people who lived through the

“I am like a solitary star”

Note: This poem was originally written in Zapoteco. I am like a solitary star shining in the sky, and I do not need another to glitter.  

The Paths

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazateco. All paths arrive at the only road that exists. In the darkness only mystery is transparent. No one answers, silence too is a

The Sacvi of Chinango

Note: This poem was originally written in Mixteco. This is what our ancestors said, this is what our elders told us: that we lived in peace with our fellow men in this world, because we

Marías Mazahuas

Note: This poem was originally written in Mazahua. On her back the smallest child, others before her, yet others following. They decided to discover new worlds closed the windows and

A Traveler’s Tale

Note: This piece was originally written in Ñahñu. A traveler felt hungry and stopped at a house, asking if they would sell him some food. The lady of the house said yes, that


Note: All of the poems in this sequence were originally written in K'iche'. The laughter of the waves is the foam. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

To My Grandfather

My grandfather's steps are done; he has walked so much. Now the earth moves little by little beneath his feet so that he will be able to approach the edge of the sun. For

At Times

At times sleep deserts me and lest I pass the night turning over in bed I go out to chat with the moon. She tells me about the flower that could turn into a butterfly and the

Like the Leaves

Forgetting is like leaves. Some fall others are born. They stop being leaves only when the tree stops being a tree. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.


If the squirrels were to devour your eyes Modigliani would bring you to life in one of his paintings. For the next poem in this sequence, click here.


Note: This piece was originally written in Tzotzil. The village of Chamula, where Tzotzil is spoken far more frequently than Spanish, has maintained much of its Tzotzil Maya language and

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