The Creators of INCANTATIONS

I live a couple of professional lives. I'm a poet and a publisher. It's a peculiar and very interesting dilemma. Lee (she's a novelist and short-story writer) and i got into the publishing life so we could try to make a living at something we loved--putting language on the page. Our company Cinco Puntos Press doesn't publish much poetry. Why? Because very few people buy poetry books. But sometimes we go out on a limb and publish a book that crosses the terrain. In this instance, it's INCANTATIONS: SONGS, SPELLS AND IMAGES BY MAYAN WOMEN. This magical book (I use the term "magical" in the literal sense) was edited and curated by poet Ambar Past. More about Ambar later. But for now I'm pasting below a blognote that appeared on our Cinco Puntos Press blogspot. Because a different crowd of readers come to this blog, I thought it would be good to put this here too. This is one of those times when I get the chance to wear my poet hat and my publisher hat stacked atop one another.

OVER A HUNDRED AND FIFTY PEOPLE COLLABORATED to write, illustrate, and create this book, among them singers, seers, witchwives, washer women, sugar beer brewers, conjurers, native bearers, prayer makers, soothsayers, sorceresses, dyers, diviners, hired mourners, spinners, shepherdesses, babysitters, millers, maids, bookbinders, spellbinders, cornharvesters, great-grandmothers, sharecroppers, necromancers, exorcists, coffee pickers, potters, crazy women, midwives, planters, woodlanders, bonesetters, troublemakers, spiritualists, mothers-in-law, peddlers, gravediggers, fireworks makers, drinkers, hags, beggars, bakers, basket weavers, shamanesses, liars, computers, comagres, sculptresses, muses, and even men. We have made this book “as we make our children,” in the words of Petú Xantis, “with the strength of our flesh and the birds of our heart.”

In the land of Som Chi, the Eloquent Conjurer,
In the land of Som Chi, Spinner of Incantations.

—Ritual de los Bacabes
So Ambar Past begins her essay "Notes on the Creators" in the anthology INCANTATIONS: SONGS, SPELLS AND IMAGES BY MAYAN WOMEN. Below, in this video, Ambar and Maruch Méndes Péres celebrate the book, making offering to the Gods, with candles, poetry and a reading.

[NOTES: Ambar's daughter, the videographer Tila Rodriguez Past filmed, edited and produced this video. It was originally published on the web on Blip TV here. By the way, if you're on facebook reading this, you might not be able to watch the video in the blognote. It will, however, be posted on facebook in videos and on the wall separately.]

Maruch is a shepherdess and poet. This is what she chants to the Gods:


The Tzotzil Maya of the Chiapas Highlands say that the Gods need to have poetry in order to survive and so they created humans to make that poetry, that feast. Thus, Maruch and Ambar are celebrating the publication of our U.S. edition of INCANTATIONS. Maruch chants poetry and lights the candles for the altar and later in the video Ambar reads a poem. This magical book--edited and curated by Ambar--was originally created by el Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders Workshop), a self-governing collective of mostly Mayan women. A member of the taller, Maruch was one of the book’s creators.

In her essay "Notes on the Creators,"Ambar tells this story about Maruch--

Shepherdess Maruch Méndes Péres is the author of Songs of the Drunken Woman. Maruch is not much of a drinker, however, and claims she never married because she can’t stand drunks. She lives in Catixtik, Chamula with two little girls she adopted, Xvel and Marta Méndes. Now it seems that Maruch has also adopted Xvel and Marta’s three siblings and also their birth mother, Dominga. All of them have changed their last names to Méndes. The Leñateros were trying to get in touch with Maruch last year to pay her royalties from the sales of the Spanish version of this book, but were told that she had died, and would be buried that very day. All of us from the Workshop piled into a hired van packed full of flowers and we headed off sadly to Maruch’s hamlet. There were hundreds of people in mourning outside of her house, including Maruch herself, who was so overjoyed to witness our arrival at the funeral that she forgot for a moment her sadness over the death of her elder sister—also named Maruch Méndes.

Here, then, is a couple of Maruch's incantations:


Saint Mother,
Godmother, I am drunk.

I caught the drops that fall from your roof
I drank your shadow.

Now I am getting drunk.
Anyway, my Saint Mother,
anyway, my Godmother,

look after me
so I won’t trip over something.

I am drunk; I have drunk,
my Saint Mother, my Godmother,
Saint Maruch, Niña Maruch.

I want all your pretty ones to overwhelm me.
I want to sing,

Virgin Maruch,
Niña Maruch.

I am a drinker of drink.
I drank your wine.

It has gone to my head.
My heart is spinning

I know how to drink.
I know how to drink everything.

—Maruch Méndes Péres


I step and walk
on your flowering face,

Holy Mother, Holy Wildwood,
Sacred Earth, Sacred Ground.

Show me the way, Mother,
put me on the right track.

Rise up, Holy Rock!
Rise up, Holy Tree!

Come with me on the way up.
Be with me on the way down.

Sacred Mother,
Holy Breast,

Holy Kaxail,
Sacred Earth,

Holy Ground,
Holy Soil,

Sacred Ahau,
Holy Snake,

Holy Thunderbolt:
Protect me with your shadow.

—Maruch Méndes Péres


ErnieChusma said...

Truely a gift for all people. Thank you Bobby, for your part in preserving our culture and for your smile. Peace.

Glenn Buttkus said...

Yes, Bobby, it is both brave and foolish, esoteric and yet altruistic, that you give us the chants, songs, and poetry of the Mayans. Most of us are somewhat familiar with Native American poetry, and love our modern Indian poets, like Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, and others--but we just lounged in ignorance relative to the voices of Central America. It is sad to have to admit that books of poetry just do not have much
commerical potential. I guess that's one reason we all love the internet these days, where chapbooks abound, and poetry blossoms like wild chives and wild strawberries in strange corners and shards of light. I love that one quote you gave us:
We have made this book “as we make our children,” in the words of Petú Xantis, “with the strength of our flesh and the birds of our heart.”


Ed Baker said...


in the 70's
Coca Cola yet had as a main ingredient

cocaine or was it codine?

so this Mayan was "right on" with her medicationing

I will bookmark this and order a copy

heck I have inhaled both of Hereomes books

Shaking the Pumpkin and

I got some "stuff" here from the 50's "Indian Stories/Myths"

heck, "myths" are borne out of a Realty...

heck I was in Oaxaca in 1968! "settled" in San Miguel de Allende

acuse of The Instituto

with my next SS check will order thsi from you!