Poem of the Week: Rosa Chavez’s “We, stones, were branded by hot iron”

We chose Chavez’s poem for our first of National Poetry Month because poetry in the Americas began long before the colonial powers of England, France, and Spain arrived in the West.  The oldest languages in the Americas also spoke poetry, and with Chavez’s poem we hoped to honor that much longer history.

Ri oj ab’aj xkoj qetal ruk’a k’atanalaj ch’ich’
Ri oj ab’aj xkoj qetal ruk’a k’atanalaj ch’ich’
Xk’at ri qab’aq’wach
Xojilon ruk’ ri tzolq’ominaq qawach
Q’eq taq jul
Kqab’iq qib’ ruk’ pa ri najil
Ri kamikal kuyuq’uj qaj ri qak’axk’ol
Ri utz’i’ kureq’ ri qaqolotajik
Kuchub’aj ri k’otk’ob’naqalaj qak’u’x
Ri uk’ok’al ri ulew man junam ta chik
Ketzaq lo uwach taq che e ma’j k’u na
Xaq chi owal xoj k’iyik
Chi tz’uj chi tz’uj pa uk’u’x taq ri jul
Jeri’ qapisik xub’an ri utz’ininem
Ri nimalaj majb’alil

Las piedras fuimos marcadas con hierro candente

Las piedras fuimos marcadas con hierro candente
quemados nuestros ojos
vimos con la mirada volteada
agujeros negros
tragándonos en la infinidad
la muerte chineaba nuestra desgracia
su perro lamia nuestras heridas
nuestra conciencia lacerada
ya el sabor de la tierra no era el mismo
los frutos caían antes de madurar
a escondidas fuimos creciendo
gota a gota en le profundo de las cuevas
así fue como nos envolovió el silencio
del gran comienzo.

We, stones, were branded by hot iron

We, stones, were branded by hot iron
our eyes scorched
we saw through an inverted gaze
black holes
swallowing us in infinity
death cuddling our misfortune
his dog licking our wounds
our lacerated conscience
already the flavor of the earth was not the same
fruits fell before they ripened
we were growing clandestinely
drop by drop within the caves
it was in this way that the silence of the great beginning engulfed us

From Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas (University of Arizona Press, 2011).
Translated from the Spanish by Gloria E. Cachón.
Used with permission.

Rosa Chávez is a member of the Maya K’iche tribe on her father’s side and the Maya Kaquiquel on her mother’s side. She was born in Guatemala in 1980. In addition to being a poet, she’s an actress and cultural committee member. Rosa Chávez has been invited to share her work at various literary event and festivals in Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. Publications include Casa solitaria, published in Guatemala in 2009;PIEDRA, published in Costa Rica in 2009; and Los dos corazones de Elena Kame, published in Argentina in 2009.

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Please feel free to share the Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks! If you are interested in reading past poems of the week, feel free to visit the blog archive.

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