Monday, February 27, 2012

The Gods' Tale: A Fable

     There are ceremonies still held at the Mayan temples of Palenque in Mexico. Some are secret and some are Officially Sanctioned. The Lacantun people guard the frescoes of Bonampak given to them by the State. The Maya surround the site of Chichen Itza. But to get to Yakchilán you must travel to the end of the country, to the Usumacinta, the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala. 
You have to hire a launch and go down the fast brown river and climb the high bank. When you arrive at the center you will feel the handwoven blanket of grief over the temples. The Rain Bringers, the MaizeSeed spirit, the Burden Bearers, the Yum Kaax, spirits of the forest, have been abandoned. There is never smokerise from the painted censors.The palapa-altars that the shamans still build are never constructed here.
        But the gods still take the voice of the birds, and Yax-kom mut, the green firefly bird, lands on a branch and begins:  
    "All day, and almost every day of ever year, the launches arrive.  At first we were hopeful. Sometimes, after war, everyone left, but they always returned. We heard the voices and thought our people were coming back. They arrive in boats without paddles. A new, loud power moves the boats and cripples Silence. They move faster than the river, almost as fast as the birds. Their skin is not brown, their hair is not black, their features lack the elegance of our people. 
      It took us so long to realize they knew nothing about us, that they were strangers. Strangers because they couldn’t feel our presence - even when we poured rain on them, when we turned our power over to the stones, and their eyes followed us up the stairs of the temples.     

     They never stay for long. They return to the boats speaking of where they go next. We have never received a blessing. Not a wisp of smoke.
         O great trees. Holy trees. You who are beyond wanting.”






Thursday, February 9, 2012

Traveling the Road Not Taken

Misol-Ha, Chiapas


      In 1963  I traveled and worked in Chiapas, Mexico.  There were  rumors of waterfalls,  blue-green rivers,  a Mayan city on the banks of a river that could only be reached by motor launch,  and a newly discovered temple with painted frescoes, days away from San Cristóbal.  

       All of these places were unreachable. The forest was dense and roadless, and two young women traveling alone with machete-wielding chicleros was not a good idea.  The road from San Cristóbal into the mountains, which occasionally turned into a track, ended at Tenosique. Or was it Ocosingo? To get from San Cristóbal to the Mayan site of Palenque, we went back to Tuxtla, the capitol of Chiapas, and flew with a bush pilot, who barely rose above the mountains and deposited us in a ditch.   
Temple of the Sun, Palenque   (all photos are mine)
       In Mexico, I became who I am - or who I can be.  Adventurous, curious about everything to do with culture, with textiles, reading everything, fairly fearless - and, at that time, with a never-before-free spirit. 
     Though I longed for adventure and discovery, I did not become a field anthropologist, living in a tropical village and learning a native language. I did not work on digs hoping to find something as exciting as the burial chamber in Palenque, with its jade-masked skeleton of a deified ruler.  I became a community college instructor, and remained in the same town, and worked at the same college, and that was my calling, and I called myself fortunate.
         Over the years, I would read over the names on my aging map of Mexico, watch documentaries on the people of Chiapas, and read everything I could find on the cracking of the Mayan code, and the Zapatistas, the revolutionaries among “my” people.   

     Several years ago I bought a new map of Mexico. Red lines for major roads went to Palenque and all the way south to the Usamacinta river! I retired, and we began to travel…..

     And then, this January,  we were there! Careening vans opened the landscape of Chiapas to us. Here was the rumored and murmuring waterfall, and here was the how-can-it-be-aquamarine river,
Agua Azul

and there were the great trees that hid the ruins of Yaxchilan on the high cliff above the wide brown rush of water.
    When we came to the turn-off for Bonampak, we switched vans, and a long-haired Lacandon in traditional white toga drove us through miles of  one of the last remaining Preserves of uncut rain forest. We walked up to the temple, and there, finally, were the frescoes!

     It was as though all the locked places in myself flew open.  My dear husband opened to these magical places as well, and of course I wrote constantly. Here are some of my notes, on the way to becoming poems:

    Oh the trees    the magnificent    magnanimous trees   the odd and slightly sinister  the bearded tree and the one whose branches  are braided    and the flowers that flourish in the shade  
El Chanpan
           Each path is a seduction 

     Palenque: Traveled the world for 7 years and this is where I most wanted to be   elegant temples in the rainforest   
a watertumble of creeks that sometimes river     

     How happy I am in the lush greening patterns of light and shade and water running   running over rock    then rock becomes hillock   becomes cliff
Is there no end to higher?  

     At Bonampak I am  so moved as the Maya white stone grey stone world   turns colorfresco and lives   oh, oh  like a Mayan Sistine chapel  

           Mountains covered in forest and the desire to penetrate    
  to go inside  
Always wanting to go