Prose from Poetry Magazine

On “My Father Gave Me a Gift”

When Mikeas Sánchez and I met eleven years ago, she told me, “To be an Indigenous writer in Mexico is an act of protest, an act of cultural and linguistic resistance, and also a battle against the Mexican educational system and against Mexico’s literary elites.” She has extensive experience with such protest and resistance, as the only woman to have published a book of poetry in her language, Zoque. She has now published six such books. Sánchez also cofounded the Zoque community organization ZODEVITE. Against all odds, ZODEVITE has successfully opposed mining, oil fracking, hydroelectric dams, and other threats to Zoque lands in Chiapas, Mexico.

Sánchez’s commitment to collective action infuses her poetry. As she explained in a 2018 interview: “It’s not ‘Mikeas’ poetry,’ it’s poetry that is inside the community. It’s poetry that my community members carry within them, that maybe they didn’t even know was there. […] My grandfather was known as a sort of shaman in the community, so I think this poetry is also a type of spell. It is a way to invoke our ancestors and be born again with them.”

Her poem “My Father Gave Me a Gift” gestures toward both spell and invocation of the Zoque language, which has about 75,000 speakers and is in danger of extinction. This poem’s sonic refrain—“we, we, we/ore, ore, ore/wik, wik, wik”—highlights Sánchez’s emphasis on the auditory. She worked for seven years as a bilingual radio producer and continues to produce Zoque-language audio for educational programs.

The Zoque and Spanish originals of “My Father Gave Me a Gift” appear in Mikeas Sánchez’s most recent book of poetry, Jujtzye tä wäpä tzamapänh’ajä/Cómo ser un buen salvaje, or “How to Be a Good Savage,” published by the University of Guadalajara’s Press in 2019. The poem refers to a yellow flower, called “wewe” in Zoque, that is endemic to the forests near Mikeas’s home. When you blow into the flower, it makes a sound like birdsong.

Editor's Note:

Read the poem and translations this note is about, “Aj’ jara’is tzi’upä’,” “Mi padre me dio un regalo,” “My Father Gave Me a Gift.”

Originally Published: July 6th, 2022

Wendy Call is a writer, editor, and translator. She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In