Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (5): Víctor Terán, six poems from 'The Spines of Love'

Translation from Isthmus Zapotec by David Shook



The north wind whips through,

in the streets papers and leaves

are chased with resentment.

Houses moan,

dogs curl into balls.

There is something in the afternoon’s finger,

a catfish spine,

a rusty nail.


Someone unthinkingly

smoked cigarettes in heaven,

left it overcast, listless.

Here, at ground level, no one could

take their shadow for a walk,

sheltered in their houses, people

are surprised to discover their misery.


Someone didn’t show,

their host was insulted.

Today the world

agreed to open her thighs,

suddenly the village comprehends

that it is sometimes necessary to close their doors.


Who can divine

why I meditate on this afternoon?

Why is it birthed in me

to knife the heart

of who uncovered the mouth

of the now whipping wind,

to jam corncobs in the nose

of the ghost that pants outside?


The trees roar with laughter,

they split their sides,

they celebrate

that you haven’t arrived at your appointment.


Now bring me

the birds

that you find in the trees,

so I can tell them

if the devil’s eyelashes are curled. 




From the palm of my hand

the afternoon eats its meal:

lean horse abandoned for being old,

nagging horse, dirty horse.


There is a trail

behind the hill

you see there.

In the open sky

three white tissues distance themselves,

saying goodbye.

Nostalgia has hung

its hammock in my heart

and my grudges

hastily sharpen their weapons.


Here the earth is broken,

land of acacias and stones.

In the sky smoke and clouds are visible,

clouds, smoke, and grief.


The footpath that zigzags

behind that slope

leads to your house.

The long cloud that extends across the horizon—

maybe you are looking at it,

maybe you look at it now.

My love for you is not the size of that cloud,

not that size.





You will not manage to hurt me.

You will not break my existence.

The cathedral of light that you left me is immense,

warm and joyful.


You scented my existence for a long time.

You introduced me to paradise

with your warm and naked body.


My hands still shake at the memory

of your fleshy ass.

My lips still tremble

when I remember the taste of your nipples.


With these memories, how can I feel hurt?

Though you left me, how can I abhor you?

You left me with an ocean of dazzling fish,

an ocean of incessant fish.





I know your body,

entirely I know you.

If you were a city

I could give perfect directions

to wherever they asked me.

I like all of your body,

I like to see you talk, laugh,

move your head. Your two well-rounded hills

are the honey of bees, where my lips celebrate to the gods.

I would have liked to continue storming your forest,

lodgings made deliberately for a nice death.

You were created with love,

your body is worthy of praise. What an honor to have lived,

to have been. I am no longer bothered

when men turn to look at you,

I am no longer impatient when you undress.

You are a stag in the air. A raft of flowers

that snakes across the river by morning.


There is no part of your body that I do not know, there is no

part that I do not like. I want to keep being

the light stunned at the look of your white

roundness of flesh. I want to keep


       in the beautiful city

                             that you are.




                        For Víctor Yodo 




did you kidnap

a man whose word is as true

as a thorn,

who yearns for

my flowered Juchitan?



what grievance did he commit against you?

did he stomp

on your family’s necks?

did he sic his dogs on


flowered dreams?



tell me,

don’t bite the words

that come

to your tongues.



open your mouths.





Moon. Sweet white moon

like the gleam in the eye of an unlucky hunter

who chases a rabbit across the mountain.


Emptied and moldy cachimbo shell moon.

Pregnant belly moon.

Delirious moon

like a colander that dreams of overflowing with water.


Deformed egg moon.

Ripe rubber-fruit moon:

give me a slice of your joy

to refresh life in my town.

Ceremonial huipil moon

that adorns the Zapotec’s head:

give me the fireflies that live in your heart

to light my people’s paths.

Intact moon, full moon.

Moon happy to die laughing

slapping its ass.


[NOTE.  A significant array of stateless languages & cultures, while positioned outside the reach of dominant nation-states, has begun more recently to create new literatures as vehicles for those outsidered by the ruling powers.  In Latin America alone, writers in indigenous or subaltern languages & creoles have appeared from multiple directions – Mapuche, Mayan, Mazatec, Nahutal, Quechua, Zapotec, among others.  Like others so engaged, & perhaps more than most, Víctor Terán begins from a base in the Zapotec spoken – & now written – on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and in Oaxaca, & pushes outward to merge & become a part of the poetry & literature of the world at large.  Writes David Shook as Terán’s translator: “Víctor Terán may live on a small isthmus in Southern Mexico, he may write in a language with a mere 100,000 speakers and even fewer readers, but he is a world poet. His most recent personal project attests to that: an anthology of forty poems by forty world poets, from Basho to Cavafy to Hikmet, Shakespeare to Whitman to Eliot, all translated for the first time into Isthmus Zapotec by Terán himself, who uses Spanish cribs.  The Spines of Love, Terán's first selected poems in any language, and the first ever trilingual Isthmus Zapotec-Spanish-English book that I know of, proves that he belongs in those esteemed poets' company.”  The importance of these poetries for a new poetry & poetics of the Americas is by now irreversible … or should be.  Terán’s forthcoming publication by Restless Books in Brooklyn is but another step in that direction.  (J.R.)]