To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shaking the Pumpkin (5): Two Poems from the Flowering War (Aztec)


A SONG OF CHALCO

In the sedge beyond Chalco
the god raised stones for his house

Green thrushes sang in the fire,
glowing, changing to roses
Over these ruins, these diamonds
the quetzal-bird
measured its voice into song

The river trembled with flowers. It
circled through flowers of jade,
deep perfumes

Lost among flowers
the tzinitzcan waited,
making their colors
its own

& the quetzal-bird
sang a new measure
The quetzal-bird ruled them

Being a poet
I sing: my song
grafts buds to these branches
Forests of flowers
rise, deep
fragrant perfumes

The flowers are dancing:
the deep perfume
moves to the beat of a drum

Dew globules
thicken with life
& run down the stems

The father stiffens
with pleasure
A green sun
moves through the sky
In a jade urn
beautifully clothed
he sinks down

Throat bound by a
necklace of turquoise
While the flowers
rain shadows of color

Oh chieftains who sing
with me, chieftains
bringing him joy:
a new song to rise
from these flowers

The full flowers
tremble
the flowers grow heavy
with spring
bathed in sunlight

The sun’s heart
throbs in the cup
His flesh
is the darkness of flowers

Who would not cry for
such flowers, oh
giver of life? who
would not rest in your hands
that hold death?
Opening buds & corollas
an endless thirst in the sun

I have gone from your house, I
sing in a dark heavy flower
My song fills rivers with petals

Oh day of libations, oh
flowers blown through the land
Oh deep perfumes

The god has opened his flowers:
flowers born in his house
are alive in this soil


THE EAGLE & THE JAGUAR

No one so strong, no one
so lovely
in all the things of this world

As the eagle
ready for flight
& the jaguar
whose heart
is a mountain

See how they carry
my shield now
These slaves

COMMENTARY

SOURCE: Angel María Garibay K.’s Spanish versions in his Poesía Indígena, Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Mexico, 1952. Poems are Aztec but earlier too.

The “flowering-war” image in Mexican poetry becomes one of the basic symbols of Nahuatl spiritualism. As Laurette Séjourné summarized it in her book Burning Water, “To reconcile the matter and spirit of which he is formed, individual man must all his life keep up a painfully conscious struggle; he is a battle-ground in which two enemies confront each other pitilessly. The victory of one or other will decide whether he lives or dies; if matter dies, his spirit is annihilated with him; if spirit wins, the body ‘flowers’ and a new light goes to give power to the Sun. … This ‘flowering war,’ continually renewed in every conscious creature, is symbolized by two divergent currents, one of water, one of fire – which at last unite.” The actual military orders of Eagles & Jaguars would then be taken as prototypes of those enlisted in that struggle: on some “real” battleground (in the later & grotesque Aztec view of it) or in man as “meeting ground of opposing principles, which die in isolation when they are removed from it.” … The imagery & ritual of flowers continue into contemporary Mexico, e.g. in the Huichol peyote songs (“where the roses are born / where they flower / garlands of flowers & wind”) & in those from the Yaqui Deer Dance (“out there / in the flower world / the patio of flowers / in the flower water”).

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years.]