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February 12, 2011 / johnoliversimon

Caminante 9: Zapatistas

CAMINANTE 9

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The only Mexican poet I never met or translated.

ZAPATISTAS

The ghost warriors have returned from under the earth
since we denied their continent they have no faces
only woolen masks like dolls made of a corn husk
when the fields catch fire and the fireflies dance
to burn the city so we see the four hundred stars.
Or maybe their features were smoothed by fingers
of generations of children whispering tears to sleep.
Masked they have more face than those on the screen.

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San Andrés Larrainzar
Chiapas
10/19/95

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Comentario: the black ski masks of the Zapatista comandantes, as they exit the negociaciones at midnight to give their palabra to the world press, confer mysterious authority. As if they went without faces for those who have been denied faces. As if the mask (máscara) gave them more face (más cara). Or as if the Ghost Dance finally worked its magic, and the army of the dead had risen from half a millenium of massacres to negotiate as equals with the neo–colonial state.

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Overview: My obligatory Zapatista poem. I went down to the Tzotzil (Tzetal?) hamlet of San Andrés Larrainzar one evening in October 1995 with solidarity folks in a big van, over rough Chiapas mountain dirt roads, headlights dispelling not very much darkness. After the negotioations, at midnight, after hours of fairly extreme Gringo Trail socializing scene though which jeeps drove by with armed men and the international we thrilled to rumors, the Zapatista comandantes solemnly gave their word, something as choreographed as a movie,  no big news. The rock star, Subcomandante Marcos, the only Mexican poet I have never met, did not speak to the public. We bundled back to San Cristóbal. The poem is really just unpacking and explaining who the Zapatistas were and what they were doing, leading into the final pun, mâscara mask, más cara, more face, also more expensive.

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Since I don’t know how to change it, I like the way Marcos’s poster forces the poems into shorter fragments. It’s still eight lines a crack, folks. Nothing to see here, keep moving along. On our way out of town the very first time to Toniná, Conchis, driving with one hand, hailed with the other a woman she saiid was Marcos’s girlfriend, but we were going round the corner faster than light in the little bvay-dublay-uu and I never saw her. I soon talked my way into taking over the wheel and got us there and back, though it was a near thing. See the next poem, in which comes the closest shave.

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