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Friday, 18 May 2012

Earthly Reckonings: At least my flowers! At least my songs!


Untitled (Papeles de una novia que se dio un tiro porque su novio la dejó en el altar): photo by Enrique Metinides, 1964 (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles)  "At the same time that they appear immediate and visceral, Metinides’ photos also display the formal economy of a professional storyteller. In a piece entitled Papeles de una novia que se dio un tiro porque su novio la dejo en al altar, we are relayed the story of a bride who has shot herself in the head after her fiancé failed to appear at their wedding -- a near-universal narrative, packed into a hazy black-and-white shot of a few bloodstained personal effects and a pistol." --Kathryn Garcia, Dias de los Muertos

¿Solo asi he de irme?
¿Como las flores que perecieron?
¿Nada quedara en mi nombre?
¿Nada de mi paso aqui en la tierra?
¡Al menos flores, al menos cantos!

Ceramic representation of Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of the dead and king of Mictlan (Chicunauhmictlan), lowest and northernmost section of the underworld, recovered during excavation of the House of Eagles in the Templo Mayor, now on display at the museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City: photo by Thelmadatter, 23 March 2008

Was it for this only that I came?
To fade away like the flowers?
Nothing left of my name?
Nor of the days I have spent on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!

from Cantos de Huexotzingo: Nahuatl original attributed to Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin, aka Aguila Blanca de Tecamachalco (The White Eagle of Tecamachalco), in ms. collected in early 16th c. (English: TC)

File:Huex codex 4a loc.jpg

Nahuatl Huexotzinco codex (panel four), made in 1531 by Nahua Indians in a legal case in Mexico and Spain against Spanish administrators who abused them. The Indians were part of the Cortes estate. Cortes was a co-plantiff against the administrators who mismanaged his estate.
The Huexotzinco Codex is an eight-sheet document on amatl, a pre-European paper made in Mesoamerica. It is part of the testimony in a legal case against representatives of the colonial government in Mexico, ten years after the Spanish conquest in 1521. Huexotzinco (Way-hoat-ZINC-o) is a town southeast of Mexico City, in the state of Puebla. In 1521, the Nahua Indian people of the town were the allies of the Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortés, and together they confronted their enemies to overcome Moctezuma, leader of the Aztec Empire.
After the conquest, the Huexotzinco peoples became part of Cortés' estates. During 1529-1530 when Cortés was out of the country, Spanish colonial administrators intervened in the daily activities of the community and forced the Nahuas to pay excessive taxes in the form of goods and services. When Cortés returned, the Nahuas joined him in a legal case against the abuses of the Spanish administrators.
The plaintiffs were successful in their suit in Mexico, and later when it was retried in Spain. The record shows that in 1538, King Charles of Spain agreed with the judgement against the Spanish administrators and ruled that two-thirds of all tributes taken from the people of Huexotzinco be returned. (Harkness Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress)

File:Huex codex 1a loc.jpg

 Panel 1 of the 1531 Nahuatl Huexotzinco Codex, showing image of the Virgin with Child and symbolic representation of the taxes paid.
This document, or codex, is a precise accounting in graphic images and recorded testimony of many of the products made by the people of Huexotzinco and paid as tribute. These products included corn (maize), turkeys, chili peppers, and beans, as well as bricks, lumber, limestone, and woven cloth. The accountants also included the amount of gold and feathers used to produce a banner of the Madonna and Child for a Spanish military campaign. This representation of the Madonna and Child is one of the earliest to be produced in the Americas. (Harkness Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress)

Nahua Numbering System

20 = 20 20 turkeys = 20 turkeys 400 = 400 400 bushels of corn = 400 bushels of corn
8,000 = 8,000 8,000 chili peppers = 8,000 chili peppers 1 load of adobe bricks = 1 load of adobe bricks
1 load of lime = 1 load of lime . 1 load of lumber = 1 load of lumber

"My grandmother died in 1991. She lived over 95 years and she loved to paint landscapes. I am fortunate to have one of her paintings.   The painting was framed in a simple and inexpensive manner. It had a cheap wooden frame. The matting around the painting was green burlap material.  The backside was a brown paper Piggly Wiggly grocery bag glued to the edges of the wooden frame. My grandmother always re-used materials in this manner. Recently my wife and I decided to have this painting properly framed so that we might proudly display it. While removing the painting from the old frame, we discovered a poem on the back of a blank check in my grandmother's handwriting. It was glued to the backside of the painting and then covered by the brown paper bag. I am convinced that she left this as a message to those of us that survived her. I was struck by this poem. She must have known that the painting would last beyond her years. She wanted to leave this to us, and to let us know that this was her way to leave a part of herself to us after her death... How did my grandmother know of this poem?   It is fairly obscure, and most translations are in Spanish.   Did she see it in a book? a magazine? a newspaper?   This is a mystery, which we will never solve." --Chris Guinn, 13 November 2003

Fotografia na świecie

Hotel Regis, after the 1985 earthquake: photo by Enrique Metinides, 1985 (via American Suburb X)


Anonymous said...

¿sólo vine por esto?
¿para apagarme como las flores?
¿que nada quede de mi nombre?
¿ni de los días que pasé en la tierra?
al menos mis flores, al menos mis cantos

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if when translating I add words to complete an idea,..I may spoil the poetic sound ...(?)

Chris said...

Thank you, Tom.

This fragment has stayed with me ever since I first read it in 1969 on the wall of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. I couldn't bear to quote the last beautiful line in the context of the dark pictures from Chapultepec Park. It's even better in Nahuatl:

"Ma nel xochitl, ma nel cuicatl."

Hazen said...

White Eagle of Tecamachalco lives on, thanks to the labyrinthine passage of this poem through many other lives, including Chris, and his grandmother, and Tom, and now numerous others. His lament on the ephemeral life seems also an attempt to anchor himself in time and memory—and this self-blessing has met with considerable success. We know of him today because his words have such power and resonance that other people, hearing and reading them, re-transmit the signal, acting like repeater stations down the centuries.

So this is how I must go?
Like the flowers that perished?
Will nothing remain in my name?
Nothing of my passage here on earth?
At least flowers, at least songs!

Nin Andrews said...

At least my flowers
at least my songs . . .

That's a lot right there. Stunning. Al menos--stunning. Okay, that's not a poetic sound.
Esp with the auto-correct version --all menus.

Anonymous said...

o es mejor así:
¿quedará algo de mi nombre?
¿o de los días que pasé en la tierra?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Thought-provokingly beautiful and stirring and when you stop to think of this poet's other name, it brings us even closer to the reality of living on/leaving this earth.

TC said...

Lovely comments.

Reading back into the Spanish translations of Nahuatl songs, one imagines souls passing in the mist along the shore, on both sides of the border between histories and worlds, equivocating about returning.

In the mists and distances that keep us apart from these flowers, these songs, can we make out the the footsteps of The Departed?

What Chris saw written on the wall -- does the meaning remain hidden from us?

Lila Downs: Icnocuicatl (contemporary Nahuatl lyric by Natalio Hernåndez)

Sorrows of time, and so many equivocations... are those bodies, passing through the half-light, in the indecisive mists?

A 1947 bolero by Osvaldo Farres perhaps captures the contradictory in-betweenness of the twilights between worlds -- here it's interpreted by the same talented multilingual contemporary singer:

Lila Downs: Quizás, quizás, quizás

While lost in the borderland mists, though... this is my own favourite version of the equivocal classic:

Ibrahim Ferrer & Omara Portuondo: Quizás, quizás, quizás

Así pasan los días, this distance always wider

Siempre que te pregunto
Que cómo cuándo y dónde
Tú siempre me respondes
Quizás, quizás, quizás

A sí pasan los días
Y yo desesperando
Y tú, tú contestando
Quizás, quizás, quizás,

Estás perdiendo el tiempo
Pensando, pensando
Por lo que más tú quieras
Hasta cuando, hasta cuando

Y así pasan los días
Y yo desesperando
Y tú, tú contestando
Quizás, quizás, quizás

Still some will also remember not to forget:

Nat Cole: Quizás, quizás, quizás

Would the ghosts permit us to leave out the cover by the immortal Celia Cruz?

Celia Cruz: Quizás, quizás, quizás

... and to not quite complete the shadowy all night border-crossing passage, a wonderful update by the young Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno:

Gaby Moreno: Quizás, quizás, quizás

(In the end, I couldn't make up my mind...)

TC said...

By the way -- very moving this: " the signal, acting like repeater stations down the centuries."

With characteristic acuity Hazen (who often sees what's going on here more clearly than I do) thus gives a terrific condensed version of the recursive "action" of this post -- the transmission circuit including the signal sent by the White Eagle, the woman in another century framing the Nahuatl poem on a ship-in-a-bottle blank check on the back of a landscape, and we here reading (or dreaming?) the same poem now ...

Susan Kay Anderson said...

It has been difficult to realize that what is left can be considered flowers and songs when they may have been much more than that. (gardens, spells)
After all, who is so generous?

I won't mention names--but, someone in that white hot rage who wrote letters regarding the blank faces of students--

Thanks for the gentle schooling.