Monday, April 17, 2006

A La Malinche/
To Dona Marina

Tu eras morena
, you were brown,
like the earth, humble,
center of the universe in a quiet, isolated mountain,
or passing, wrapped in rebozo, Madonna on any modern street,
walking slowly under the sun on any dusty country road.

Maligned, La Malinche, you were sold, used
like a dictionary, stretched between Spanish and Nahuatl,
the voice a bridge between cultures,
like any worthy woman, bearer of sons,
mistress to conquistadors,
married off as the highlight to some drunken orgy
on some midnight ship, a last joke of Cortez.

Tu eras la luz
, you were the light in any window,
the voice that wakens children from sleep,
safe from night terrors. Tu eras la violencia,
you were the violence, the betrayer
of secrets, the sister of the brother strangled
in a room of gold, fleeing from palace to palace,
from hacienda to hacienda, la cantinera,
camp follower of any revolutionary
in an age of horses, guns and trains.

Tu eras placida
, you were the center of all the paintings,
rounded arms like leaves growing from the heart of the people,
a flower and a poem floating legends, Xochimilco,
strands of flowers woven together, boats rocking,
I name you the flower, the flowers name you,
I name you the woman, your womanliness names you,
You are the flower, and you are the poem:
We are your children.

I wrote this poem in response to readings for Eng209 Latin American literature. The events described in this poem actually happened to a woman named Malintzin, first given to Cortez, who became his mistress, bore him a son and acted as a translator. She is credited with saving the Spaniards' lives by warning them of Aztec attacks on the "night of tears," yet the chronicles of that time show she was married to one of Cortez' lieutenants as part of a shipboard party. She was named Dona Marina by the Spaniards but called La Malinche by the Aztecs. Each generation has recreated her image as betrayer and betrayed. Since she remains such a powerful influence over the ages, the poem reflects the passage of time, and the little Spanish in the poem is translated immediately after the phrase. I also tried to echo the images and structure of Mesoamerican poetry here. Beth

Source of image:

Additional sources on La Malinche: Wikipedia at and

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