Words of Friendship
It is a tremendous honor to publish these poems by the Maya poets Humberto Ak’abal and Negma Coy, two of the participants at the V Encuentro Continental Intercultural de Literaturas Amerindias (EILA) that was held at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá in April 2018. At that event I not only had the opportunity to meet authors from throughout Abya Yala, but also the privilege of proposing that we could translate some of their work for Latin American Literature Today. With these first poems from the K’iche’ Ak’abal and the Kaqchikel Coy, I give you a broad perspective on Maya language poetry in Guatemala.
Paul M. Worley
Translator and Dossier Curator
Ojer bix re ri kik’el
Man xintu’ ta ri’, ri kaxlan tzijobalil
are taq xinalaxik.
Ri nuch’abalil xalax cho k’iche’laj
xuquje jas ne’ ulew ri unaba’il,
ri kich’abalil ri wati’t numan are ri’ ri wachoch.
Are we kinch’awik para kaxlan tzij,
xa je ta che kinkoj jun k’ak’ lawe
ri kutor jun uchi’ ja chik ri kok cho jun k’ak’ ulew
ri jawi ri tzij k’o wi chi ri kakibij
k’o wi chi ri kinaba’il che ri ulew.
Wa kaxlan tzij are una’tasibal re jun k’ex,
xuquje man kink’ix ta wib we kintrijon chupam
rumal che loq’om wa
ruk’ ri kikik’el re ri nuxe’tayil uwi’ nujolom.
Pa wa jun kak’ ch’abalil
kink’ut chawe ri ukotz’ijal re ri nubix,
ri una’bal re k’o wi chi taq bis
xuquje uwachibal re k’o wi chi taq ki’kotemal…
Wa kaxlan tzij xa jun lawe chik
che ubixoxik ri ojer bix re ri nukik’el.
The Ancient Song of My Blood
I didn’t drink Spanish
from my mother’s breast when I came into the world.
My language was born
among the trees, and tastes like earth;
my grandparent’s language is my home,
If I use this language that’s not mine,
I use it like a shiny key
to open doors to another world
where the words have another voice
and another way of connecting to the earth.
This language is the memory of pain
and I speak it without fear or pain
because my ancestors bought it
with their blood.
In this new language
I’ll show you my flowering song,
I’ll bring you the taste of other laments
the color of other joys….
This language is only one more key
to sing the ancient song of my blood.
Ri ja’, ri q’aq’
Man kasach ta pa ri nujolom
ri jun q’aq’ pa ri wabal,
kaq’aq’an ri sib pa ub’oqoch jun
xuquje k’a pa uchi’ jun.
Are k’ut cho ri xan
ri nonoch’ e q’eq’a labaj.
Ri moxirinaq q’aq’
kutijijej ri si’…
Are k’ut ri ja’ ri kapoq’owik
xa je ta jun ch’uj awaj
ri tajan karakin chupan ri t’uy.
Water and Fire
I can’t recall an image
of that bright kitchen,
smoke burning her eyes
bitter in her mouth….
The shadows along the walls
were black phantoms.
The enraged fire
devoured the firewood…
The boiling water
was a rabid animal
gnawing at the pot.
Mayul re qajibal q’ij
Kinwaj kinoq’ik wakamik
chuweq man in jamal ta hi ri’.
Kinwaj katinloq’aj pa wa q’ij wa’
rumal ri chuweq a’l chi ri’ ri nuk’aslemal.
Ma bij chuwe che ri achik’
k’o uk’isbal re.
Ma bij chuwe che ri eyenik kusach rib
ri xa je ta ri mayul re ri qajibal q’ij.
Man kinwaj taj kinwetamaj che kinban tzij
che wa jun k’exk’ol ri no’jimal
kuban uk’olibal cho ri nuk’ux
che xuwi wa’ ri qas usaqil tzij.
Let my cry now,
because later I won’t have time.
Let me love you now,
because tomorrow life will be more difficult.
Don’t tell me that every dream
has its end.
Don’t tell me that illusions dissipate
like afternoon mist.
I don’t want to know that I lie to myself
and that the pain settling into my heart
little by little
is the only truth.
Translated by Paul M. Worley
Humberto Ak’abal (1952-2019, Momostenango, Guatemala) is perhaps the best known Maya K’iche’ poet in Guatemala and beyond. Renowned for his innovative use of poetic devices such as onomatopoeia and for his energetic public performances, until the end of his life he was loyal to his community and to Indigenous movements throughout Abya Yala.
Paul M. Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at tsikbalichmaya.org), and with Rita M. Palacios is co-author of the forthcoming Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for México for the journal of world literature in English translation, Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.
In the eleventh issue of Latin American Literature Today, we highlight one of the essential voices of Mexican letters, Elena Poniatowska, and we pay homage to the towering literary figure of Chilean poet Enrique Lihn. We also highlight literary journalism from Venezuela and Mexico, indigenous literature in the Maya languages of Guatemala, poems by renowned Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst, and exclusive previews of upcoming books in translation from Silvina Ocampo, Johanny Vázquez Paz, and Sergio Chejfec.