To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Juan Gregorio Regino: The Poet Speaks, the Mountain Sings (A Talk & a Poem)

[Since the late 1970s Juan Gregorio Regino has been a leading figure in the movement – throughout Latin America – aimed at the creation of new literatures using native languages alongside the dominant Spanish. A Mazatec by birth and upbringing, Regino was a co-founder and president of the Comité Directivo de Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas (Association of Indigenous Writers). His poetry and other writings have appeared in his own Mazatec and Spanish versions, and in 1996 he received the Netzahualcóyotl Prize for Indigenous Literature. The remarks that follow were made in response to this award, an example of the continuities between the Mazatec past and a present shared with oral poets like María Sabina. The translations throughout are my own from Regino’s Spanish versions and first appeared in María Sabina Selections, University of California Press, 2004. (J.R.)]

K’e tjien fucho ena.            Up to here my voice can be heard.
K’e tjien fucho ndana.        Up to here my spirit extends.
Kui ndi’ya xi tsja tjik’ien.   In this house that gives shade.
Kui ndi’ya xi tsja isien.       In this house that refreshes.

Our writing was interrupted many years ago, and yet we have learned by means of orality to preserve our memory. From the people of wisdom in my land I have learned to value and to cultivate the word. For my people the word is truth, feeling, memory, symbol of struggle, of resistance, of identity. To possess it and to re-create it is a way of knowledge, a form of communion with the sacred, a pact with nature, a romance with the universe. In the dense vegetation of our mountains, it is not only the poet who speaks; the mountain sings also, the duendes of the ceiba also raise their voices, the duendes of the blue cascades, the duendes of the deep ravines. The countryside is also poetry; woman is also.
        To make indigenous literature is neither folklore nor a passing fashion; it is a dialogue of identities, of civilizations, of languages, of millenarian voices and perennial spirits.
        It is fellowship, it is respect for difference, it is the knowledge of one for the other.
        The indigenous languages are a patrimony of our country that should not go on developing in hiding and subordination. They are living languages whose contact with Spanish brings a mutual enrichment, because there are no pure languages and no superior or inferior ones.
        Our peoples have not remained static, they construct their truth every day; today we can say that we sing in two voices, we whistle in two tongues. We believe in the language of the earth we have cultivated, we believe in the language that arrived from the other side of the ocean, we believe in the universal language of the sun. Languages are our treasures as our identity is the eagle and the serpent, the crowns and the laurels.
        We have survived ethnocide, we have learned to write and to cultivate our minds with foreign books. Today we are recovering the tradition of the tlacuilos, blanketed beneath a single concept: Mexico. Today is a time of unity, of peace and of work.
        I am ending my presentation with a fragment of the words of a great Mazatec woman: María Sabina.

Ngat’e xujun Né,                         Because they are the papers of the judge,
K’ui xujun kjuakjintakun,           It is the book of your law,
K’ui xujun xtitjun.                       It is the book of your government.
Ngat’e mana chjajo ‘an jaa.       Because I can speak with your eagle.
Ngaté béjne ngasundie.               Because the world knows us.
Ngat’e béjne Néna.                      Because God knows us.

[This last citation from María Sabina also serves as the epigraph for the following poem.]



In the light of the candle
in the essence of sweet basil
In the spirit called forth by the incense
my life’s book is laid out.

Open is my thought before the judge
The gears of time stop short
So that Limbo may pull back a pace
So that the sun and moon dress up
Because the images take on a face

What does the smoke of the incense say as it accompanies
the words that initiate their journey to the heavens.
What is the message of the maize your palms propel
that seeks for truth there in the mystery.
In what place, what path
and on what pretext does the guardian of the earth
possess my spirit.
Today reveal it, master
before my person,
before the eyes of God,
before the witnesses

You who know the sacred
who lead us on the pathway sown with songs.
Open the sky to me, show me the world,
start me on the path to wisdom.
Let me drink from the children who spring forth,
teach me to speak and read the language of the Wise Ones,
flood me with the power of the Gods,
inscribe my name there in the Sacred Place.
I am clean, my wings are free.
Dew will cause new words to sprout,
rain will nourish wisdom.
I am star that shines beneath the stone,
sea that dances in the blue of sky,
light that travels in raw weather.
I am sun’s vein, I am song.
I am dance and chant that heals.

The spirit of evil lies in wait,
the song begins.
May the words arise that open up the heavens,
the prayers that cut across the profane world.
So may the candles of white light be lit
and drip envenomed blood.
It is a mortal struggle in the Sacred Place,
it is the ransom for my spirit.
For my life these fresh leaves will go forth,
these knowing words,
these colored feathers,
these songs for this initiation.

Here my basil is at daybreak,
clean like the horizon:
my medicine is fresh,
my medicine is white.

In its leaves the gentle word
that opens up the heavens:
the word that gives us peace,
the word that gives us breath.

My basil will arrive where sins are purged
will fly off clean to where dawn grows bright.
My pleas will reach into the book of records,
will free my soul from poisons that can kill me..

My incense will reach the place
where it communes with life.
It will reach the house of those
who are the guardians of the earth.
It will be heard out in the place of images,
will plead its case there in the bosom of the night.

However many mouths they have,
however many tongues they may possess,
those who have knowledge of the heavens,
those conversing with the codices
and speaking with the Gods.

Here is my spirit,
my oak, my cedar.
Here in my heart the prayer is born
is with it in its journey to the heavens.

From the house of purity,
the table of the dawn.
I am asking for strength.
I am seeking justice.

The sacred book will open,
the darkness will grow bright.
In the house of writings.
In the house of the stelae.

Down to the soles of my feet.
Down to the palms of my hands.
At the apex of my thought.
At the core of my extremities.

My spirit has feet,
my soul has hands,
my veins leave tracks,
pulses of time and the way.

I can talk with the dawn,
can submerge myself in turbid waters of torrential rivers,
barefoot can walk up the incline,
can hurl my song against the wind.

I arrive with God the Father, God the Mother,
I have crossed seven winds,
seven levels of the heavens.
I have defied seven faces of the World Below.

Because I have eyes for looking at the night,
light enough to plumb the mystery.
Because I am a messenger who guarantees his word,
a singer who can track the soul.

In the house of purity
I come to put my calling to the test,
come to awaken secrets.
I come to seek the word,
the fresh and clean path.

I am a bird that prophesies the sacred,
morning star that opens the horizon,
cicada that whispers to the moon,
mist that cures the mountain.

Here the fiesta ends,
the road is closed, the song is over.
Lucidity is lingering in the copal,
kernels of corn close up their pages,
standing guard over the journey’s secrets.

A mystery is disappearing,
new ways emerging, ways to fathom life.
The birds trace paths, the earth is fasting.
The moon confides her troubles to the sun
and dawn shakes loose on the horizon..

Here the fiesta ends,
the song rests in the morning’s arms.
The children who spring forth open the world’s heart,
nature is sending signals.

1 comment:

WAS said...

Holy sh**, talk about the song of the sacred mountain. This is an incredible poem, masterfully translated, intentional enough to be prayer, novel enough to be art, an intoxicating, incantatory mix. The truth is expressed here, as elsewhere throughout this site, so purely and clearly words literally open up to the lofty aims set in the preface. The Logos. It’s also one of the most beautiful expressions of the courtship between the material and the spiritual I’ve ever read. A post to be savored. Seamless continuity seems to breathe from every pore. Pure magic.