Blind and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington


Old man, your eyes
the color of spoiled milk,
every evening we saw you
on the corner under the streetlight,
your hand outstretched, a few coins
sparkling in your upturned palm.
You must have known
the sound of our footsteps,
for one evening as we approached
you reached out and softly
put your hand on my shoulder
and whispered in my ear:
Pity the blind.
It’s beautiful to
be touched so lightly.
But we turned and walked
away—happy, in love.
When we got back
to our apartment I
could still feel your
fingers perched on my
collar-bone like a bird.
Much later, after
she left me for good
I’d go back each night
to the corner where you stood.
I could hear the elevated train rattling, clattering
and the bang of doors
as the shop-keepers locked up for
the night. But you were
never there. Every time
I pass that corner
I wonder where you are now,
old man, your eyes
the color of spoiled milk.
Wherever you are
have pity on me.


The Woman Below

A woman lives
in the apartment below me,
but I’ve never seen her.
I hear her at odd hours
stacking boxes or banging pans
and listening to JS Bach
and sometimes
the Fifth Dimension.

She makes beautiful noise downstairs.
I can tell by the way the china clicks
when she’s setting her table
that she has delicate hands
and is graceful.
We might be lovers
if I only had an opportunity
to meet her.

Once I left a note
on her door saying:
If you ever need anything…
Of course, she never called.
I can hear her downstairs now
watching reruns of “Seinfeld.”
I have a TV dinner
in the oven.

We have a nice life together.


One by one
I watch them go in
and file out again.
I overhear their stories—
as if Mr. Stevens could care
about their lives
as much as their typing speeds
and the way they wear their hair.
Their dreams are all so similar
(and so similar to mine)
that even after thirty years
it’s like I’m walking in
with each one of them
each time
and walking out again
of all we held inside.
No wonder they look so empty
when they take
Mr. Steven’s hand
and lie
that it was a pleasure
meeting him.
Then heave a sigh
and disappear
behind the elevator doors
like shells
of what they were before
they made this trip up here.
And they go
down, down, down,
to face the blinding light
of noon in Midtown:
the breathless air,
the strangled sky,
the next, and next, and next guy
with whom
they interview.
It’s how the world’s always been.
At least, thank god,
just one unlucky girl
will have to make this trip upstairs

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda which he restored himself in rural Yucatan, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry. He was an invited reader at the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba in 2012. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review,Poetry Ireland Review and many other publications worldwide. He has published four chapbooks: The Traffic of Our Lives (winner of the :Ledge Press, 19th annual chapbook award), Handcuffed to the Jukebox, Aqui/Here (bilingual) and Yesterday, A Long Time Ago. His translation of the Maya poet Feliciano Sánchez Chan´s book, Seven Dreams, appeared this year from New Native Press. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories, authored a collection of essays, and has published five novels.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


detail of Pastoral Hours

acrylic, polyvinyl acrylic, rhoplex & interference, pearlescent & metallic medium on canvas

by Jane Gilday


When We Said Goodbye and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington


When We Said Goodbye

That morning
you stepped out
on the porch
with just your robe on.
You touched me
on the shoulder
and said: I’m sorry.

I got in my car
and drove
I don’t remember where.
I headed out
into the country—

At the foot
of the hill
in the pasture
behind the house
two roan horses
lay in the wet grass
beside each other.

set the field
on fire
and I saw them stir,
one nudging
the other
with her snout.

I had never seen
horses lying down.
And until that morning
when we said goodbye
I had always believed
that they slept



The hardest two-syllable word
you´ve ever had to say in life—
X-wife. The “X” choked out, mumbled,
whispered, but hard and clear on “wife.”
Eyes lowered, a scarlet “X”
of failure on your chest. Ashamed
to even spell it out—“X.”
You´re friends, a cliché for which you´re
grateful. Still, you dread the coming
time you won´t be able to just
pick up a phone and ask her what
her day was like because some truly
sane and decent guy has taken
her and closed the door. So when the
phone rings beside their bed she´ll sigh
and say: Probably my X, just
let it ring. And you´ll know why.


Every morning
she stops beside you
at the same spot
in front of my newsstand
both of you rushing to work.
How perfectly timed your mornings must be
for your feet and hers
to touch the same crack in the sidewalk
as they always do just before nine
when I’m cutting open boxes of magazines.
She sometimes tries to catch
the look in your eyes as she hands me exact change.
But you always gaze down
as if something shameful
is happening between the three of us.
At night I lie awake
wondering who she is
as the light from the streetlamp outside my window
pours onto the frayed carpet
of my furnished room.
I wonder if you ever
lie awake at night, too,
somewhere across town
thinking of her.
In the morning while I stack the Daily News,
you get off the bus
as she comes up from the subway, briefcase in hand,
and you walk toward each other.
It is a ritual between us.
I hand her the Wall Street Journal,
and you the New York Times,
as your feet and hers almost touch
but then are lost in the traffic
of our separate lives.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda which he restored himself in rural Yucatan, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry. He was an invited reader at the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba in 2012. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review,Poetry Ireland Review and many other publications worldwide. He has published four chapbooks: The Traffic of Our Lives (winner of the :Ledge Press, 19th annual chapbook award), Handcuffed to the Jukebox, Aqui/Here (bilingual) and Yesterday, A Long Time Ago. His translation of the Maya poet Feliciano Sánchez Chan´s book, Seven Dreams, appeared this year from New Native Press. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories, authored a collection of essays, and has published five novels.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


art by Kreso Cavlovic


A Simple Life and other poems

by Jonathan Harrington


A Simple Life

You close the screen door

of the motel room

behind you

and follow the sandy path

one last time to the beach.


The smell of salt

lingers in the air

and a cool breeze on your neck

takes your mind

off the long drive home.

The boardwalk is closed for the season

and the reflection

of the slumbering Ferris wheel

shimmers in the wet sand

at the water’s edge.


Beyond the breakers

gulls plunge into the sea.

In the distance you see something.

It must be sea-weed.

You keep walking.


Sandpipers race from the foam

leaving the hieroglyphics of their tiny tracks behind.

You’re thinking: What a quiet summer it has been

when you glimpse a body receding with the tide.

A gull drops.

You push your way into the sea.

It sucks at your legs.

You fall back

plunge forward

fall back.


Through the smear of salt

you watch the bloated corpse of a woman

rise into view on a crest,

her tangled hair covering her face.

Another gull falls as she disappears.


Straining against the surf, you reach the body.

Her neck is twisted;

she stares backward,arms floating outstretched

like broken wings.

You grasp her clammy waist—

already slick

with the mucus

of a water death—

and struggle toward shore.


You drag her to the edge of the dunes

and fall panting on the sand.

It is a nightmare

you tell yourself.

But you know better.


You stare wildly up the beach.

It is still, deserted;

the flawless summer nearly over.

There is still time

to give her back.






One by one

I watch them go in

and file out again.

I overhear

their stories—

as if Mr. Brown could care

about their lives

as much as their typing speeds

and the way they wear their hair.

Their dreams are all so similar

(and so similar to mine)

that even after thirty years

it’s like I’m walking in

with each one of them

each time

and walking out again


of all that’s boxed inside.

No wonder they look so empty

when they take

Mr. Brown’s hand

and lie

that it was a pleasure

meeting him.

Then heave a sigh

and disappear

behind the elevator doors

like shells

of what they were before

they made this trip up here.

And they go




to face the blinding light

of noon in Midtown:

the breathless air, the strangled sky,

the next, and next, and next guy

with whom

they interview.

So what?

It’s how the world’s

always been.

At least just one unlucky girl

will have to make this trip upstairs again.






I have almost lost you completely,

can barely remember the curve of your jaw

your nose, your gray hair beneath a cap to ward off the sun.

I remember cigarette smoke, the smell of nicotine on your fingers.

But I cannot rearrange your features to make sense.

You are a puzzle.

I have the nose, blue eyes,

even the sound of your voice.

But I cannot assemble them into a proper face.

Sometimes, coming up from the A train at Columbus Circle,

hurrying to work, work, work,

I see you hunched in an overcoat against the wind

lighting a cigarette in the doorway of a deli on 8th Avenue.

But as I get closer you grow younger,

with a haircut not of your era,

brown eyes not blue,

your features already receding

into someone else’s face.






I´m against plants that don´t bloom,

faulty fireflies

blinking on and off;

I´m against noise and rudeness,

garbage and dead batteries,

and motors that won´t start,

and wet matches, and slow computers;

I´m totally against wounds and against tears,

against hunger and thirst, insomnia, envy…

“But señor,” —they say—

“you´re against all those things.

What political party do you support?”

 Well, I am a proud one hundred-per-cent supporter,

and a life-long member, of the party of Love.


(written in Spanish by Jonathan Harrington

Translated into English by Fernando de la Cruz)




A Charmed Life


I remember one bitter winter

in Park Slope,

waiting with my cousin

for the A train

at Jay Street

to carry us over

the stinking Gowanus Canal.

I looked down the tracks

into the black tunnel

as if looking into hell.

I leaned out

straining to hear the bang

of metal on metal

and the scream of the train

as it bulleted into the station.

I won’t lie to you

I was drunk—

a young man drunk

on freedom and the City of Brooklyn,

with its rows of tenements,

like rotten teeth,

and piles of dirty snow.

I fell,

pitched forward

and broke my head open

on the tracks

just as the train shrieked

into the station.

My cousin,

God bless him,

pulled me back up

on the platform

and held my broken head

in his arms

and screamed at me

as the blood ran

all over his lap:

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.”


I am lucky

to be writing this poem







Somebody picks at the sores

of her new tattoo.

Somebody stares at the mustache

drawn over Madonna´s upper lip

on a torn poster.

Somebody listens to an Ipod

no one else can hear

her head thrusting back and forth

like a catatonic

or a strychnine victim.

Somebody mumbles her rosary.

Somebody reads the Daily News.

Headline: “Mother Tosses Baby From Roof.”

A crippled beggar clears his throat.

Somebody is praying.

Somebody studies a book on macroeconomics.

A woman is polishing her wedding ring with a tissue.

Somebody stares blankly at absolutely nothing.

A boy reads the sports section

over a hunchback’s shoulder.

Somebody sneezes.

A coach (whistle around his neck)

plots football strategies on a piece of graph paper.

A man and woman argue.

A little boy scratches his elbow.

Somebody is writing this poem.


photo by Dan Griffin


Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda that he restored himself in rural Yucatán, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry from Spanish and Mayan. He is a weekly featured reader at Café Poesia and Café Pendulo in Mérida. He is on the permanent faculty of US Poets in Mexico and a reader for the University of Arkansas Press’ Miller Williams Poetry Prize. He has read poetry throughout the world and has been invited to the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba, Semana Negra in Gijon, Spain and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review, Main Street Rag, Green River Review, Kentucky Poetry Review, English Journal, Epitaph, Slant, Black Bear Review and many other publications. He has published two chapbooks: Handcuffed to the Jukebox and Aqui. His translations from the Spanish and Mayan have appeared in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, International Review of Poetry. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories: New Visions: Fiction by Florida Writers, authored a collection of essays, Tropical Son: Essays on the Nature of Florida, and has published five novels, The Death of Cousin Rose, The Second Sorrowful Mystery, A Great Day for Dying, Saint Valentine’s Diamond, and Death on the Southwest Chief.


Poetry, translation

First Dream (The Beginning) and other poems

by Feliciano Sánchez Chan

(translated from spanish to english by Jonathan Harrington)


First Dream (The Beginning)

I am the Sacred Ceiba Tree (the Kapok)
from which your children will dangle like fruit,
if you claim them
before their seeds ripen.


I am the vertebra that unites
the thirteen canopies of heaven
and the nine levels of the underworld
where the spirits travel.


I am the breasts of your daughter,
where the old man nurses,
his long gray hair spilling over
the four directions of the universe,
as he walks nude
through the heavens
by your tears.


You entrust to me
the lives of your children,
on my trunk you see
their footprints.
I am the Ceiba,
I am the Sacred One.


Yáax Wayak’ (U káajbal)Teen le kili’ich X-ya’ache’
tu’ux ku ch’uytal a paalal
wa ka bisiko’ob ta wiknal
ma’ayli’ k’anak
u yi’ijo’obo’o in Na’.Teen a baakel nupik
óoxlajun u yáalal ka’an
yéetel bolon u yáalal metnal
tu’ux ku xíimbal pixano’ob.

Teen u yiim a x-lóo’bayan aal
tu’ux ku chu’uch le nuxib
ku jayik u sakil u pool
tu kanti’itsil yóok’ol kaab,
yéetel ku xíimbal chaknuul
ta ka’anil tia’al ka’ a búukint
yéetel u ja’il a wicho’ob.

Ti’ teen a k’ubeetmaj
u kuxtal a paalal in Na’,
ti’ yaan u pe’echak’o’ob tin nak’e’,
teen X-ya’axche’,
teen Kili’ich X-ya’axche’.


Sueño Primero (El origen)Soy la Ceiba Sagrada
donde penden tus hijos
si los reclamas a ti
antes que sus granos sazonen.Soy la vértebra que une
las trece capas del cielo
y los nueve niveles del inframundo
donde transitan los espíritus.

Soy los senos de tu hija,
donde amamanta el anciano
que dispersa sus canas
en los cuatro rumbos del universo,
y camina desnudo
por tus cielos
para que lo arropes
con tus lágrimas.

A mí encomendaste
la vida de tus hijos,
en mi tronco se ven
la marca de sus pies.
Soy la Ceiba,
soy la Ceiba Sagrada.



Second Dream (The Word)

I am the conch
my voice born of the sea
that speaks through your children,


My singing travels throughout the world
opening new trails.
I have penetrated the labyrinths of caves
so that the old gods
write on my lips
the word that the dove
spills out over the world
on moonlit mornings.


I am the first voice that gathers together the echoes
planted yesterday along antique roads.
I am the ancient word that is only spoken
after midnight
if your son does not return from the jungle.


I am the conch of long past echoes
that you have recorded with your voice,
I am the conch.


Ka’a Wayak’ (T’aan)Teen le jub
siijil u t’aan ich k’áa’náab
kin t’aan tu yóo’lal a paalalo’
in Na’.In k’aaye’ ku jolch’aktik
u beel wíiniko’ob yóok’ol kaab.
Ts’o’ok in xíimbaltik u satunsat bejilo’ob áaktun
tia’al ka ts’íibta’ak tin chi’
tumeen in úuchben Yumtsilo’ob,
u nikte’il le t’aan
ku jayik sakpakal
yóok’ol kaab
tu ja’atskab k’iinilo’ob Ujo’.

Teen le yáax t’aan
molik le éets’nak’o’ob
ta pak’aj jo’olje
te’ej úuchben bejo’obo’,
teen le úuchben t’aan
chen ku ya’ala’al
wa ku máan chúumuk áak’ab
ma’ suunak a paal k’áaxo’o.

Teen le jub úuchben u éets’nak’
tu’ux a ts’íibtmaj a t’aano’
in Na’.
Teen le jubo’.


Sueño Segundo (La Palabra)Soy el caracol
con voz nacida del mar
que habla por tus hijos
Madre.Mi canto recorre el mundo
trazando caminos.
He penetrado en el laberinto de las grutas
para que los dioses antiguos
escriban en mis labios
la palabra que la torcaza
derrama en el mundo
en mañanas de lunas.
Soy la voz primera que recoge los ecos
que ayer sembraste en viejos caminos.
Soy la palabra antigua que sólo se dice
pasada la media noche
si tu hijo no retorna del monte.

Soy el caracol de ecos antiguos
que has grabado con tu voz,
Soy el caracol.



Third Dream (Life)

I have come from the underworld, Xibalba,
to visit
your shrine, Mother.
I am the anointed gust of wind
that springs from your womb
which lives and dies here
day by day
over the face of the earth.


You gave me, Mother,
the icon of a deer of royal lineage.
That is why I fly over your face
so I will not wound you
with my footsteps.
For an eye you gave me
a precious gem.


I am born of your womb of corn
from which you feed
my children.
The gust with which you overwhelm
my nostrils
flew away like a
nocturnal hummingbird.
In this way I am born and I die
every day.
I find myself linked
to your eternal shadow.
I am from corn, your child of corn,
corn is my flesh, corn you are Mother.




Yóoxp’éel Wayak’ (Kuxtal)Taaliken tak Xibalba
tia’al in xíimbat
a Ka’anche’il in Na’,
teen u yiik’al le kuxtal
yaan ta jobnelo’,
le ku síijil yéetel ku kíimil
sáansamal yóok’ol kaabo’.Juntúul Siipil Kéej
ta ts’áajten in jo’olintej
leti’ beetik xik’nal
kin beetik ta wóok’ol
tia’al ma’ in xek’ik a wich
yéetel in pe’echak’.
Jump’éel Ya’ax Tun
ta ts’áaj tin wich.

Sijnalen ta j-ixi’im jobnel
ba’ax yéetel ka tséentik
in paalal.
Le kuxtal ta wustaj
tu jool in ni’o’
J-áak’ab Ts’unu’unchaje’
ka’aj líik’ u xik’nal.
Beytuuno’, kin síijil
yéetel kin kíimil sáansamal,
tumeen taabalen
yéetel u piktunil a woochel.
j-ixi’imilen, a j-ixi’im paalen
ixi’im in bak’el, ixi’imilech in Na’

Sueño Tercero (La vida)He venido desde Xibalbá
a visitar
tu santuario Madre,
soy el soplo
ungido en tu vientre,
aquel que nace y muere
día con día
sobre la faz de la tierra.
Un venado de estirpe real
me diste por signo,
por eso vuelo
sobre tu rostro
para no herirte
con mis pisadas.
Por ojo me diste
una piedra preciosa.Soy nacido de tu vientre maíz
con el que alimentas
a mis hijos.
El soplo con que inundaste
mi nariz
erigió su vuelo
de Colibrí Nocturno.
Así nazco y muero
todos los días,
pues me hallo ligado
a tu eterna sombra.
Soy de maíz, tu hijo maíz,
maíz es mi carne, maíz eres Madre.




Fourth Dream (The Light)


I am the thunder that has come
with its light
of eternal profundities
to illuminate the Sak Be, the White Road
where your children travel, Mother.


I am the bolt that invented light
to announce to mankind
the fall
of your tears of corn,
the Sacred Grain that sustains my brothers and sisters.


Lord Fire
is my older brother.
Today I have come
with my four sisters:
the Rain from the East,
the Rain from the West,
the Rain from the North,
the Rain from the South.


I am, Mother,
the most willing of your sons,
I walk the world
without leaving footprints
only lives reflect my presence
from day to day
only my memories remain
and the hope
for what still needs to be done.
I am the Light, I am the Light,
I am the Light.




Kamp’éel Wayak’ (Sáasil)Teen le kíilbal taalen
yéetel u piktun
taamil in sáasil
tia’al in jop u sak bejil
tu’ux ku xíimbal a paalalo’
in Na’.Teen le kíilbal ta sutaj sáasilil
tia’al in k’a’ayt ti’ wíinik
u yéembal
u ixi’im ja’il a wicho’,
u sujuy i’ijil
a tséentik in láak’o’ob.

In Noj Suku’un
Yum K’áak’.
Bejla’e taalen
yéetel kantúul in kiiko’ob:
u Cháakil lak’in,
u Cháakil chik’in,
u Cháakil xaman
yéetel u Cháakil noojol.

Teen in Na’,
u jach péeka’anil a paalal,
ma’atech u chíikpajal
in pe’ech’ak’ yóok’ol kaab,
chen kuxtalo’ob
éets’nak’tik in chíikul,
ikil u máan k’iino’obe’
chen kin k’a’ajsa’al
yéetel bajun ba’al
u bin u ts’o’okbesa’al.
Teen sáasil, teen sáasil,
teen sáasil.


Sueño Cuarto (La Luz)Soy el trueno que ha venido
con su luz
de eternas profundidades
para alumbrar el Camino Blanco
por donde transitan tus hijos, Madre.Soy el relámpago que hiciste luz
para anunciar a los hombres
el descenso
de tus lágrimas-maíz,
Grano Sagrado con que sustentas a mis hermanos.

El Señor Fuego
es mi hermano Mayor.
Hoy he venido
con mis cuatro hermanas:
la Lluvia del oriente,
la Lluvia del poniente,
la Lluvia del norte
y la Lluvia del sur.
Soy Madre,
el más presto de tus hijos,
yo camino el mundo
sin dejar huellas,
sólo las vidas
reflejan mi presencia.
De un día a otro
sólo quedan mis recuerdos
y la esperanza
de lo que falta por hacer.
Soy la luz, soy la luz,
soy la luz.



Fifth Dream (The Spirit)


I have flown
so many times
I am a reflection of your own flight,
You taught me
to breathe life
into everything that lives
in this world.


I am the spirit of your son
that nurses
from the Mother Ceiba.


Beyond the clouds
I have traced a rainbow.


You have told me,
that accompanied by the hummingbird
I can lead to you
those who have lost their lives.


You intentionally made me ageless
so that I might be reborn day by day
with the Father Sun,
I am your spirit,
I am the spirit that gives off light
I am your gleaming spirit




Jo’op’éel Wayak’ (Pixan)Ts’o’ok in xik’nal
piktun u téenel
ch’uyukbalen ta xik’nal xan
in Na’.
Teech ta ka’ansen
in ts’áa u kuxtal
tuláakal ba’ax kuxa’an
wey yóok’ol kaabe’.Teen u pixan a waal
ch’uyukbal tu k’ab
ki’ichpan X-ya’axche’.
To tu paach le múuyalo’
Ts’o’ok in bonik jump’éel chéeli’.

Teche’ ta wa’alajtene’ in Na’
wa ku láak’intiken Ts’unu’une’
uchak in bisik ta wiknal
le máaxo’ob ku kíimilo’.

A wóolili’ ma’ ta ts’áaj in ja’abile’e
tia’al in síijil sáansamal
yéetel Yum K’iin,
teen a pixan,
teen le yaan in sáasilo’,
teen a sáask’ale’en pixan
in Na’.

Sueño Quinto (El espíritu)He volado
tantas veces
prendido en tu propio vuelo,
Tú me enseñaste
a soplarle vida
a todo lo vivo
en este mundo.Soy el espíritu de tu hijo
que amamanta
en la Madre Ceiba.

Más allá de las nubes
he trazado un arco iris.

Tú me has dicho,
que acompañado del Colibrí
puedo conducir a ti
a los que dejan de vivir.

A propósito no me diste edad
para renacer día a día
con el Padre Sol,
soy tu espíritu,
soy el espíritu que emana luz,
soy tu espíritu resplandeciente,



Sixth Dream (The Otherness)


I am the hummingbird
that sketches a rainbow in the sky
with the splendor of its flight.


I am your image embroidered
on the Rain,
child of your mirror
seven times transparent
where you do not find me
when you want to
and you see me
when you don’t want to find me.


I am the Sun of autumn
that hurts the eyes
of the white cloud—your daughter—
so that she will cry rain.


Drink, Mother, from my sap,
I will eat your precious grain
so that in me
your son will be engendered.
You will know tomorrow
that the road I choose
is only one step
so that the dream that I create
will bring us
to the place of origin
where you will be my flesh
and I will sustain you.




Wakp’éel Wayak’ (U yaanal)Teen le Ts’unu’un
bonik chéelo’ob te’ej ka’an
yéetel u léembal u xik’nalo’.Teen a woochel chuya’an
te’ej Cháako’,
u yaal a néenil
uktéen sáask’ale’en
tu’ux ma’atan a wiliken
wa a k’áat a wilen,
tu’ux ka wiliken
wa ma’ a k’áat a wileni’.

Teen u Yum K’iinil yáaxk’in
xek’ik u yich
sak nookoy -a x-ch’upul aal-
tia’al u yok’oltik ixi’im.

Uk’ in k’aab in Na’
tene’ bíin in jaant a wi’ij
tia’al u síijilten
a waal.
Teche’ bíin a wojéelt sáamal
le bej kin bisika’
chen u xíimbalil
tia’al k-ts’o’okbesik
le wayak’ kin kalaantika’,
yéetel ka’ u biso’on tu’ux
bíin in bak’eltech
yéetel bíin in tséentech.

Sueño Sexto (La otredad)Soy el colibrí
que traza arco iris en el cielo
con el resplandor de su vuelo.Soy tu imagen bordado
en la Lluvia,
hijo de tu espejo
siete veces transparente
donde no me hallas
cuando quieres mirarme,
y me miras
cuando no quieres hallarme.

Soy el Sol de otoño
que hiere los ojos
de la nube blanca –tu hija–
para que llore maíz.

Bebe Madre de mi sabia,
yo comeré tu grano precioso
para que en mí se engendre
tu hijo.
Tú sabrás mañana
que el camino que elijo
es sólo un paso
para que el sueño que prolijo
nos lleve
al sitio de origen
donde tú seas mi carne
y yo tu sustento.



Seventh Dream (The Other Dead)


There are already many, Mother,
already many.
They hang from my branches
at the point of spilling
beneath my shadows
like filth.


You never told me
that the dreams you cultivated
over so much limestone
would become today the suffering
over which I cry.


I am the Sacred Ceiba,
The other hands
plant in my entrails
a woman of the night,
a bad woman
who carries off men who cannot sleep.


In this way I know your sons
and those that suckle
abundant milk
from the breasts of your daughters,
they are not my dead,
I do not take them
Aj Puch, ni Ixtab,
other dead that I do not know
sang in my ears.
They are not my death, Mother,
They are not my death.




Ukp’éel Wayak’ (Yaanal kíimilo’ob)Ts’o’ok u máan p’iis in Na,
Ts’o’ok u máan p’iis.
Ch’úuyench’uuyo’ob tin k’ab,
ta’aytak u lúubsikeno’ob,
yéetel jayakbalo’ob tin wáanal
bey ba’al ku pe’ekekaabe’.Teche’ mix juntéen ta wa’alajten
wa le wayak’o’ob ta pak’aj
tu yóok’ol le seen cháaltuno’
bíin súutko’ob muk’yajil
tia’al ok’ol tin wóok’ol.

Teen X-ya’axche’, in Na’.
Bini’it k’abo’ob
tu pak’o’ob tin jobnel
juntúul x-áak’ab ko’olel,
juntúul x-káakbach
bisik le wíiniko’ob
ku máano’ob ich áak’abo’.

Tene’ in k’aj óol a paalal in Na’
ba’ale’ le ku seen chu’uchiko’ob
u k’aab yiim
a x-ch’upul aalo’,
ma’ in kimeno’obi’,
ma’ Aj Puch’, mix Ixtab
taasik u k’ubo’obi’.
Tu xikino’obe’
k’aaynaj jump’éel kíimil
ma’ in k’aj óoli’.
Ma’ in kimeno’obi’, in Na’.

Sueño Séptimo (Las otras muertes)Ya son tantas Madre,
ya son tantas.
De mis ramas cuelgan
a punto de derribarme,
bajo mi sombra están
como inmundicias.Tú nunca me dijiste
que los sueños que cultivaste
sobre tanta piedra caliza
serían hoy las penas
que sobre mí lloran.

Soy la Ceiba Sagrada,
Las otras manos
sembraron en mis entrañas
una mujer de noche,
una mujer mala
que se lleva a los trasnochados.

Aun así conozco a tus hijos
y estos que maman
leche abundante
en los pechos de tus hijas,
no son mis muertes,
no me las conduce
Aj Puch, ni Ixtab,
otras muertes que no conozco
cantaron en sus oídos,
no son mis muertes, Madre.
No son mis muertes.




Feliciano Sánchez Chan was born in the village of Xaya, Tekax, Yucatan, Mexico, in 1960. His work Retazos de Vida (Slices of life) won the Itzamna Prize for literature in the Mayan language. “Seven Dreams” are from his book Ukp’eel wayak / Siete Sueños. He works as a promoter of culture in the Department of Popular Culture of the state of Yucatan.


Jonathan Harrington has published translations from Mayan and Spanish in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, and other magazines. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has published nine books in English, including novels, poetry, short stories, and essays. His translations of two poems by Maya poet Briceida Cuevas Cob appeared in the January 2010 issue of World Literature Today. Jonathan lives on the Hacienda San Antonio Xpakay in Yucatan, Mexico.


photo by Dan Griffin

Poetry, translation

Tulum and other poems

by Fer de la Cruz



To write, I heard you need

to find an ideal spot.

A beach in the Caribbean

will invoke all the muses who´ll descend

from deepest and most joyous blue skies,

or they´ll appear by swimming and as nude

among the foam of turquoise,

so I heard.


Then you will grab your pen

and poetry will flow,

one verse per wave,

one word per grain of sand upon your skin,

a master metaphor for every leaf

of palm tree shaken by the breeze.


It doesn´t work for me.

Attempts shattered, scarred on rocks,

ideas blown asunder,

my thoughts snarled in sargazo weed.

The ocean nearly drowned me.

All these muses

don´t even look at me.

All I´m getting is sunburn

and sand scratching my crotch.


Another Scotch, garçon!

before I dissolve into prose.




Breakfast at Xpakay


To Jonathan Harrington


“Time for a healthy breakfast”, as they say,

starting with café, bacon, galletas,

the songs of birds by the hundreds—

one chachalaca yelling from a treetop:

“Keep-it-up, keep-it-up, keep-it-up!”

as the chorus replies:

“Cut-it-out, cut-it-out, cut-it-out!” *

The chuck-will´s-widow singing:



Of course the conversation about birds

is part of breakfast at Xpakay

with the smell of firewood

and chicken al carbón, Harrington style

as the breeze rakes the trees.


“And then we´re reading poetry?—You say—

at 9:30 in the morning?

That´s not normal. What´s wrong with you two poets?”

—You keep babbling and babbling

worst than a chachalaca

as you open your second can of beer.


* Dr. A. A. Allen´s description of the Plain Chcachalaca´s “chicken like crackle”, as quoted by Roger Terry Peterson and Edward L. Chalif in “Mexican Birds” (The Easton Press, 1984), found in Jonathan Harrington´s personal library at Hacienda Xpakay, any given morning in rural Yucatán, México.



They Might Think that I Am an Angel

English translation by Jonathan Harrington


God gave me an editing job.

Between dreams I would mark the errors,

all the way from a primordial Alpha

to an impending Omega still under construction.

I saw the universe in rough draft.

There was very little love in long paragraphs of human history.

The most serious errors were ones of conscience

but those were left uncorrected—

well, it was not my job.

Human acts, like it or not,

are indelible.


Today an angel revealed to me

that my check was not yet ready;

it had to be approved by Saint Peter,

who willed to Judas the accounts of heaven

and on the other hand, the pay would be eternal

when Creation is finally finished.

And in the meantime—how do I live?

How do I eat? With what do I pay rent or transportation?

Who will save me later from the Purgatory of the credit bureau?


Now I understand why they say we are made in the image of God.

On Earth, everything is the same. But I´m not lifting my red pen.

I throw into the fire all my corrections.

Let them solve their own problems.


I hope humanity will correct itself

if it believes in a Destiny poorly written in some dead language

with that beginning and end imposed from above,

in the endless spiral of time

where no one is in the least interested

if I am paid or not.




Creerán que soy un ángel


Le hice a Dios un trabajo de corrección de estilo.

Entre sueños señalé las erratas

del Alfa milenaria al ya cercano Omega aún en construcción.

Vi el Universo, hecho a la carrera.

Había muy poco amor en largos párrafos del devenir humano.

Los errores más graves eran los de conciencia

pero estos los dejé sin señalar

pues no era mi función; total

los actos, quiéralo o no, son indelebles.


Hoy me revela un ángel

que mi cheque no va a salir aún:

debe ser aprobado por San Pedro,

quien heredó de Judas las cuentas celestiales,

y que en cambio, mi paga será eterna

cuando haya concluido la Creación.

¿Y mientras de qué vivo,

qué como, con qué pago la renta y el transporte…?

¿Quién me redime luego del purgatorio de un buró de crédito?


Ahora entiendo por qué dicen que somos

a imagen y semejanza del Creador.

En la Tierra es igual. Pero ya no muevo un dedo.

Eché al fuego el trabajo corregido

y que vean cómo le hacen.


La Humanidad que se corrija sola

si cree en un Destino

malescrito en algún idioma muerto

con principio y final impuestos desde lo alto,

en la espiral eterna de los tiempos

en donde no interesa en lo más mínimo

si me pagan o no.




Fernando de la Cruz Herrera (Yucatán, México, 1971) holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010), “Aliteletras. De la a a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), “Sabotaje a la che y otros poemas de martirologio” (Secretaría de la Cultura y las Artes de Yucatán, in print) and in the chapbook “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008). He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico. His main passions are poetry (which he often finds in theatre, music, film…), language teaching made fun, and the constant discovery of the flavors, shapes, and depths of human life / delacrux@hotmail.com.



Las Avenidas and Jetlag

by Cesar Love


Las Avenidas

(Inspired by Jonathan Harrington’s “Boulevard”)


I’m here again, walking at nightfall

On the streets of a foreign city


This bright night returns

Her lamps the color of chili peppers

Amber, red and green


Each street pulses like a musical string

Each corner a fret on life’s guitar


I’ve not walked this street before

I’ve walked these streets forever




The vertigo of the traveler’s hours

On lands foreign

Where the bells peel in ciphered counts


In the quadrant of the clock meant for dream

The bridle slips loose that separates

Late from early


When the hourglasses

Gambol like street mimes
Vices of observation occur:

A background pitch

Perhaps from the walls, perhaps from the sky

Quite likely the hum of the Watchmaker at labor


The Morning Star,

A flame luringly indifferent to any watchbearer’s labor,

Undrapes her beam of welcome


One shore could not be nearer to Venus

Yet one hidden hour in fealty with her


Soon the quiet orgy of dawn




César Love is a Latino poet influenced by the Asian masters. A resident of San Francisco’s Mission District and an editor of the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, he has worked as a reporter and taught creative writing to recipients of general assistance. His book While Bees Sleep will soon be published by CC. Marimbo Press. He first fell in love with Mérida when he was eleven years old. He had the great pleasure of staying there for three weeks of April.


Art by Judith Shaw




The poet Jonathan Harrington, a.k.a. a mystery writer: an interview

by Julia Stewart

American Poet Jonathan Harrington is one of Merida’s most colorful foreign residents. He lives in a ramshackle 18th-century haunted hacienda, walks with a bouncing gate, and removes his thick black-framed spectacles when he recites his favorite poems in a joyous voice on a regular basis on the ‘stage’ of Merida’s Open Mic night.

What Meridanos are less aware of is the rosy-cheeked poet’s success as a mystery writer.

Harrington wrote a series of five murder mysteries: The Death of Cousin Rose, The Second Sorrowful Mystery, A Great Day for Dying, Saint Valentine’s Diamond, and Death on the Southwest Chief that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in hardback, paperback, and book club editions.


Below Julie Stewart chats with Harrington to find out more.

Q: A Great Day for Dying is perhaps the best known of your mystery novels. On the Amazon site, there are six reviews and all gave the book five stars. They loved the book! Are any of these people – Charles Holdefer, Patti Biringer, Austin Layman, Harriet Klausner, Kathleene Thomason, or ‘A Customer’ – your friends or family?

A:  The only name I recognize is my friend Charles Holdefer, a writer who has lived in France since we both graduated from the Iowa Writers´ Workshop in 1983.  The rest are not known to me.  So, no, I´m not bribing people to say nice things about my books.

Q: Your Irish-themed mystery novels were mostly written in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  What motivated you during this period to write these books?

A:  All four of my grandparents were born in Ireland. My mother´s parents were born in County Mayo.  My father´s parents were from County Clare and County Wexford. I grew up in a family with a great deal of pride in our Irish-Catholic roots. When I was an adolescent I traveled with my mother to visit her family in Ireland. Typical of a teenager, I was bored with the whole trip. I found the dreary weather depressing and as a proud Southerner I got tired of people calling me a “Yank.”  Years later, when my mother died, everything changed. Suddenly I became fascinated with my Irish roots. I went back to Ireland to visit both my mother and father´s extended families.  This time, I thought Ireland was one of the most wonderful places I had ever been. I made many trips after that. On one of those trips I did an extensive genealogical search of my father´s mother and her family. As I reviewed the materials I collected I came to the conclusion that genealogical research is like the work of a detective. You are gathering evidence from ship´s records, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and wills. All of this detective work is done in an attempt to solve a mystery. The mystery?  Who am I and where did I come from. That’s when it occurred to me that I could use this material to write a mystery novel. Frankly, I had never even read a mystery novel. Coming from a strictly literary background, I looked down my nose at mystery novels. But I began writing, learning the genre along the way (gaining more and more respect for mysteries) and The Death of Cousin Rose was born. I found a supportive hardback publisher, the paperback rights were later sold to Worldwide (a division of Harlequin) and a book club edition was put out by the Detective Book Club. The book was a hit and I followed in the next ten years with four more books in the series all featuring the main character, Danny O´Flaherty.

Q: Which, in your opinion, is the best mystery ever written?

A:   The best mystery ever written (and this is a controversial statement) was written nearly 500 years before the birth of Christ: Oedipus the King by the Greek playwright, Sophocles.  Scholars of both mystery writing and more serious literature will be shocked by this statement but I stick to it.  The plot of Oedipus is this: a crime has been committed—the king of Thebes has been murdered.  Oedipus, the new king, is determined to find out “who done it” so he launches an investigation into the crime. Of course those of you who have read the play know what results. Oedipus discovers in the course of his detective work that he himself murdered the king (his father) and he is now currently married to the queen who (unknown to Oedipus) is his mother.

Q:  Who are your favorite mystery writers?

A:   First let me mention my favorite mystery writer from México: Paco Ignacio Taibo.  He´s probably the best-known writer of mysteries in the Spanish language. He´s a dynamic personality, writes books of history, politics, biography, everything. I had the pleasure of getting to know him in Spain at Semana Negra, a ten day-celebration of mystery writing that was founded, organized and is still run by Paco Ignacio Taibo. We also belonged to the International Crime Writers Association so I would see him occasionally in New York at meetings.

As for other favorites—there are just so many. The mystery (or crime novel as it is now commonly called) has gained a great deal more respect in recent years. For years it was a very poor cousin of the “real” literary novel. But as the writing improved, with complex characters, poetic language, and realistic dialogue and plot it has gained much respect. My list of some of the best writers in the genre would have to include P.D. James (an elegant stylist). I enjoy Donna Leon´s series featuring the Venice, Italy police detective Commissario Brunnetti. An Irish mystery writer I greatly admire is John Brady whose novels are as finely etched as any so-called “literary” novel. Others in the list: James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard (for a fast, fun read) Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) Janwillem van der Wetering, Georges Simenon, James Crumley, Barry Gifford…oh, stop me, I could go on forever.

Q: A strange but common perception of writing and writers is that if your books have been published, you are rich. You have published five novels and numerous chapbooks; so are you rich?

A:   Oh, yes, I´m fabulously wealthy. I have a yacht moored off Progreso and a helicopter to take me to my ranch. No, seriously. The perception of published writers making a fortune from their books is largely a result of the fact that the general public only hears of the very high-paid authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, etc. But these types of writers are a miniscule minority of the hundreds of thousands of writers in the world. The truly great writers (that are revered and respected by other writers) are not known to the general public, their books sell modestly and most are not living off their writing. The majority are teaching in universities.

These days I dedicate my energy to poetry; one DOES NOT write poetry for money. You can make more money collecting aluminum cans in Mérida and selling them in Kanasin. I´ll tell you a funny story. Years ago I published a poem in a literary magazine in the USA. Before publication the magazine sent me a contract. It must have been over ten pages long. When I came to the bottom line I was surprised that they actually paid: US $1.00 per poem. I smiled, signed the contract, and mailed it back. (I think it cost 75 pesos or more to mail to the USA). Anyway, months later I had taken out the daily limit of my ATM card to buy an expensive but necessary item and literally did not have a peso until the next morning when I could withdraw more money. I was very, very hungry. With nothing much to do I went to check my mail at the old post office in Mérida (now the Museo de la Ciudad). I had received copies of the magazine in which my poem appeared. I was pleased. At least I could read the magazine to distract me from my hunger. Being an egotistical writer, of course I turned to my poem first. The page where my poem appeared had a bookmark: a crisp, new US $1.00 bill. I was thrilled. I went immediately to the money exchange and went out and got myself something to eat. Yes, you could get a meal for a dollar in those days. So, you see. I´m living off the proceeds from my poetry.

Q:  What, in fact, would you estimate as your hourly pay rate when you write?

A:   I have been writing for many years. The first time I was ever paid for a piece of writing was almost 40 years ago, worked as a columnist, sold magazine pieces to airline magazines, newspapers, etc. I earned a modest amount from the mystery novels. But if you take into account all the time I´ve spent writing I would say seriously that it probably amounts to less than one penny an hour. No kidding. The famous Jack Kerouac made a total of US $600 in his lifetime. Now his heirs are making millions off On The Road and his other novels. Such is the life of a writer.

Q: Do you have any plans to write another novel?

A:   Never say never. But right now my main focus is on poetry and translations. I am finding translating incredibly satisfying at this stage in my career. It allows me to enter the mind of someone else for a change. This might sound a little loco but it seems to me that one can get sick of oneself after awhile. After all, I´ve been Jonathan Harrington for 56 years now. As a writer, living primarily inside one´s own mind—well, I find it a little exhausting. With translation I get out of my own head and enter someone else´s world in a very intimate way. As I was translating the Mayan poet Bricieda Cuevas Cob´s book (From the Hem of my Dress) I was able to enter her mind and live her life in a way that I found extremely refreshing. Translating is very important to me now.

Q:  You are an accomplished and widely-published poet; your work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to the Texas Review. If you had to select one poem most reflective of your inner life, which do you feel is most quintessentially Jonathan Harrington, and why?

A:  Well, that´s one of those impossible questions to answer, you know. Excuse the cliché but it is like asking a mother…now which of your children is your favorite? Having said that…gosh, I hate this question. Usually, my favorite poem is the very latest poem I have written. But let me turn the question around a bit. One poem that seems to have struck a chord with many people—with children, adults, English readers, Spanish readers—people just seem to like it:  “A Rain of Bicycles.”  One of my personal favorites is a somewhat recent one, the title poem of my chapbook, “Aquí.” The poem in English is “Here.” But, to be honest, I think a writer´s opinion of his or her own work really counts for very little. I find it very dangerous to judge my own work because I have often written something that I am ready to throw away. It seems bad and completely useless. But someone will come along and say, “Wow, I read that poem you left on your desk. That is one of the best things you have ever written.” It makes me reluctant to judge myself. It also makes me reluctant to throw too many things away. You never know.

For example, one week the Yucatecan poet Fernando de la Cruz announced that the theme of the following week´s Café Poesía (a reading series in Spanish in Mérida) would be “Protest.” I looked through my work and realized I had never really written a protest poem. I forgot about it until the night of the reading and on the way to the reading I scribbled out a poem that I thought of as kind of a joke. This is what I wrote*:


I’m against plants that don’t bloom,

faulty fireflies

blinking on and off;

I’m against noise and rudeness,

garbage and dead batteries,

motors that won’t start,

wet matches, and slow computers;

I’m against wounds and against tears,

against hunger and thirst, insomnia, envy…

But señor, they say, stopping me:

You’re against all these things.

What political party do you support?

Well, I am a proud one hundred-percent supporter,

and a life-long member, of the party of LOVE.


(*as translated from my Spanish into English by Fernando de la Cruz)


It was surprisingly well-received that night. Still, I intended to throw it away. But Fernando de la Cruz insisted that the poem be included in my book that he translated into Spanish, “Aquí.” I still don´t understand why but especially among Spanish readers it really seems to strike a chord. I don´t know how many readers have told me it is their favorite poem in the book. In short, the writer may not be the best judge of his or her own work.

Q: What brought you to Merida initially?

A:   When I graduated from the Iowa Writers´ Workshop in 1983, the university made a slight accounting error. A student loan that I had applied for long before graduation finally came through. So, to my surprise, I received a check in the mail after I had already graduated. But the university accounting office soon realized its mistake and demanded the money back. I said, “No,  I signed a contract to borrow this money and I will pay back every cent of it according to the terms of the contract.” What could they do? Nothing, of course. So I decided I wanted to use the money to go abroad and live for a year if I could. My first choice was Ireland but I knew the money would not last a year. Then, both my sister and a Cuban friend in Florida said, “Why don´t you go to Mérida, Mexico. It is really a wonderful city and hardly anyone knows about it.” I had been to northern Mexico before and loved it. To make a long story short, I came to Mérida in 1984: It was a very, very different place then. I fell in love with everything about the Yucatán. After my year was up, I went back to the USA and worked for the publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (and by the way, paid back every cent of my student loan). Over the next 20 years I took every opportunity to return to the Yucatán. In those days you could fly round-trip from Miami direct to Mérida for US $125. Since the flight is a little over an hour, I even used to go on weekends just to savor the atmosphere and see friends. When I taught at the University of Central Florida I used all my breaks and summer vacations to come to the Yucatán. For twenty years I made as many as three trips per year to the Yucatán. It became my spiritual home.

Q:  Before living in Merida, you lived in New York City where you witnessed the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001. Did that affect the course of your life?

A:   It turned my life completely upside down. This is not a subject I like to discuss. I was working near the World Trade Center. I saw things I wish I had never, ever seen. In short, I went into a state of shock. I worked for a very progressive publishing firm who provided psychiatrists, therapists, support groups, etc. for employees who were suffering from the post traumatic stress syndrome.  Still, I decided…I´m out of here. I´m going home—to Yucatán. Just months after September 11, 2001, I bought the Hacienda San Antonio Xpakay. I have lived there full-time ever since. As a footnote to all this, I have just published a new book of poems in the USA entitled, “Yesterday, A Long Time Ago.” It is a collection of poems all dealing with the events of that horrible Tuesday in September. It is published by Finishing Line Press and is available from their website and on Amazon.

Q: People might say that a murder mystery writer sports an active imagination. Do you really believe there is a ghost living at your hacienda, and what more can you tell us about this phantasm?

A:   I first heard about the “Princesa” from the Mayan family who lived on the hacienda with me for five years. The short version of the story is this: (the long version of the story is told in an excellent piece written by Mark Olson and featured on his blog—An Alaskan in Yucatán). Short version: In the mid-eighteen hundreds the owner of Hacienda San Antonio Xpakay came in from the fields at an hour that his wife was not expecting. When he came into the house he entered the bathroom. There he found the encargado (foreman) of the hacienda and his wife in a…pardon me…most compromising position. (Mark goes into detail in his blog). The hacienda owner drew his machete and stabbed his wife to death. The foreman ran away and was never heard from again. The family who lived with me reported regular sightings of the ghost of this woman walking around the hacienda. In the house, inside the casco. What was amazing was the incredible details in which the family could relate how she looked, what she did, etc. Do I believe it? I will only say this. One night I was sleeping when I heard someone walking around inside my house in chanclas (sandals). I called out to my encargado, assuming he was in the house for some reason. I called many times and got no response, yet the sound persisted. Next morning I asked Basilio…”What in the world were you doing in the house at 3 o´clock in the morning?” He looked at me, confused.  “I didn’t go into your house.” I described what I heard. All the family laughed. “But that was the Princesa,” they said. “We saw her last night, too. She seemed more restless than usual.” I will let the story stand alone and not say whether I believe or don’t believe. You never know.

Q: We are only six months away from the much-touted Mayan prophecy regarding the end of the world as we know it. Do you think the world will come to a fiery end or that a new spiritual era will blossom? 

A:  I have lived intimately with Mayan people for over 10 years now. I have witnessed their joys and their sufferings. I can tell you that I have never once met a Mayan who is concerned with the end-of-the world prophecy. What the Maya are concerned about is putting tortillas on the table for their families. They are concerned with problems within the Maya community that are never given any publicity at all. But mostly, the Maya are hoping, like every person in the world, that the lives of their children will be better than their own lives. I don´t want to sound harsh, but I find all this stuff about 21 December 2012 insulting to the Maya. They have real problems and concerns. But few people in the West are interested in that. They want to see the Maya as “exotic.” I don’t consider my friends and neighbors “exotic.” I consider them people like you and me, struggling to live a life of dignity. I will leave the prophecies to thrill-seekers from the developed world who have no knowledge of the living, breathing Maya people. I understand people from all over the world will be at Chichen Itza on December 21. I can assure you that no one from my community will be there even if they could afford it. But I don´t want to end on such a cranky note. It sounds too much like I´m ranting. Perhaps, to play it safe, I should repeat what I said about the Princesa—Do I think the world will come to an end on December 21?

You never know.

informative, Poetry, translation

Rum, Poetry and Cigars: A week in Cuba

by Jonathan Harrington

The moment we touched down I saw the sign—and it was a good one—Jose Martí International Airport. It was the first time I had ever arrived at an airport named for a poet and I was arriving in Havana, Cuba from my home in Yucatán, México as a guest of the 16th International Poetry Festival. The Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba had invited me to present my book, Aquí/Here, a bilingual collection of poems. I was traveling with the Yucatecan poet,  my friend and translator, Fernando de la Cruz, who was also invited to present two of his books: Redentora la voz (Redeeming Voice, 2010) and his book for children, Aliteletras, 2012) an untranslatable word invented by de la Cruz meaning roughly Alliterating Letters).

For the next seven days we swam in an ocean of poetry with over 300 poets from Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Korea, Costa Rica, the United States, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Angola, Puerto Rico, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Cuba.

While most of the poets stayed in Havana, Fernando de la Cruz and I were invited by Juan Ramón de la Portilla to go to Pinar del Río (a city two hours west of Havana) where Juan Ramón is the provincial president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.  Our hosts from the writers’ union graciously chauffeured us around the beautiful tobacco-growing region of Pinar del Río in a 1970´s Russian-made LADA automobile that had seen better days but was well-maintained.



We read our poetry in cultural centers, rum factories, cigar factories, schools, and sometimes informally on the streets and cafes to anyone who would listen—and many people did want to listen.

The Trinidad cigar factory was one of the highlights of the trip for me.   I was familiar with the Cuban custom of literature readings in cigar factories.  I had once toured a Cuban cigar factory in Tampa, Florida where photos on the walls showed workers rolling cigars while a lecturer stood at the front of the factory on an elevated podium reading aloud from Cervantes, Unamuno, Quevedo and other classic authors of Spanish literature.  I could never have imagined I would one day have the honor of reading my own poetry in a cigar factory in Cuba.

In Pinar del Río, we read our poetry while the workers sat at their desks rolling and cutting cigars beneath posters of Fidel and Che smoking the classic Cuban puros.  After each poem the workers applauded by banging their cutting tools on their desks, hardly looking up from their concentrated rolling.  Most of the workers were women and I was reminded of the opera, Carmen, where the beautiful Carmen works in a cigar factory in Sevilla.  There were many Carmens at the Trinidad cigar factory.



Our host, the foreman of the factory, also read an original poem to the workers.  I smiled, thinking how unlikely that the foreman of an auto plant in Detroit would share his most intimate thoughts and feelings with his subordinates.

Following, are a few of my translations of some of the poets I met in Cuba.


Winston Morales Chavarro (Columbia)

From Antologia
translated by Jonathan Harrington


As if situated in a vague and remote space
death comes
to take us by the arm.

One can think that she is our shadow or our dream,
or perhaps a big sister
who left home a long time ago,
but surprises everyone like the arrival of an unexpected wave
or the crying of a prodigal child.

In the drunkenness of night
with its song of a crow,
with its golden halos shooting fire,
wakes us in a dream or in lethargy.
It lances us toward the absolute calm of darkness.

Then we understand
that it has always been near
that its presence is like the murmuring of a river
bordering the edge of our delta.
But at the hour of the abyss
the hour of the deadly concert
—when the Fanzah* bird sings its requiem in the backyard
or ancient bells ring,
death is not as unusual
as it is thought to be
like the impenetrable shade
that suddenly bursts into flame
and the terrifying night
in a labyrinth of perfume
where anemones begin to blossom
in the distant yard on the other side.

*see tales of Calila and Dimna (1251)


Edmundo Retana (Costa Rica)

From Passenger of the Rain
translated by Jonathan Harrington   

Where are your questions?

What wind
has carried you away?

Tell me
from your distant mouth.



Fernando de la Cruz (Mexico)

translated by Jonathan Harrington

Noam Chomsky retires from MIT
and decides to spend some time in Mérida.
He buys a modest mansion in Santa Ana
with its little swimming pool and air conditioning.
He moves his book collection to shelves installed on all the walls
and fills a cabinet with all the books he has written.

He reads in the mornings, and spends each night
in La Casa de Todos with his friend, Lorenzo;
the afternoons in Amaro with Olga and Father Lugo,
always with the notes of his latest reflections
for his conferences, articles and books.

But he is a natural-born teacher
and he soon longs to give classes once again.
He goes to (that other) MIT (Instituto Tecnologico de Mérida),
UTM and UADY to begin.
At UADY they offer him 60 pesos an hour like someone without a degree.
Of course, without pay for the summer.
UTM almost has him arrested for stepping on the grass.
At TEC they offer him a few hours teaching English.
Chomsky leaves laughing in a sweat.

And later, at the private universities, just to help pass the time
Patria, Mayab.   Marista notes that he’s Jewish and…Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
He goes to UMSA and they offer him 30 pesos an hour
to teach a class in Advanced Scholasticism
and one in public speaking.

So he gives classes in his home, on Sundays, completely gratis
to activists, artists, and adjunct professors
who may or may not be in the union.

Today he began a workshop on nonviolence
and autographed my copy, three times reread, of


Alberto Peraza Ceballos (Cuba)

Eternal Shock

From Máscaras Interiores
translated by Jonathan Harrington

Every day is an eternal shock
from the time I lost my eyes and skin;
I am left with a bitter smile
that I loan to my friends
when I cross streets
yet I feel I’m the one in debt.
A thirst persists in my chest;
an unknown emptiness.
It is strange to look at the sun
pouring its wickedness on my face
and the sky always complaining of my defects.


Aurora Martinez (Cuba)

The Moon on the Guitar

From A Contapiel

With a little bit of moon on the guitar
and the wind at my side
I make the hours ring.
October brings nostalgia
and all is well with reality:
this pine grove
and this river
that remembers so much
of this life.

Following is one of my own poems that seemed to strike a chord in Cuba.

Jonathan Harrington (Mexico)


From Aqui/Here   

All night sprockets have fallen from the sky.
The clouds have unzipped
dropping spokes all over the world.
Chains, inner tubes, handlebars and kickstands,
oh when will this godforsaken rain of bicycles cease?
Twisted frames
are lying all over backyards and baseball diamonds.
Bicycles hang
in the trees
like weird fruits.
They clutter the sidewalks,
fall into swimming pools;
they smash and clatter on the roof of my house
crushing the azaleas
in the flower boxes out front.
Oh I’m sick of it—
days and days and days on end
bicycles, bicycles, bicycles.


At the end of the week we headed back to Havana in a Packard Clipper (The Clipper was produced by Packard Motor Car Company between 1941 and 1947) that had been outfitted with a new engine.   The taxi driver rounded up customers for Havana and we headed out of Pinar del Río.  The highway between Pinar and Havana is spotlessly clean, well maintained, with neatly clipped hedges of hibiscus in the middle and pines and royal palms on the shoulders.  I was grateful for the fine maintenance of the highway because the driver took off at a speed that left me (and others in the cab) shaking with fear.   The pines and palms raced past as we sped toward the airport.  I might add that just outside the airport we were pulled over by the police and (thank god) given a ticket.  Cuba is not a lawless country.

A week of poetry, music, theater, and friendship ended with a send-off (if in spirit only) from the most famous of all Cuban poets—Jose Martí—at Jose Martí International Airport where we said farewell to Cuba for the short flight home to Yucatán, México.



Jonathan Harrington lives in an 18th century hacienda that he restored himself in rural Yucatan, Mexico where he writes and translates poetry.  He is a weekly featured reader at Café Poesía in Mérida.  He is a reader for the University of Arkansas Press’ Miller Williams Poetry Prize.  He was an invited guest to read his poetry at the International Poetry Festival in Havana, Cuba in 2012.  A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Texas Review, Main Street Rag, Green River Review, Kentucky Poetry Review, South Florida Poetry Review, English Journal, Epitaph, Slant, Black Bear Review, and many other publications.  He has published three chapbooks:Handcuffed to the Jukebox, Aquí/Here and Yesterday, A Long Time Ago.   His translations from the Spanish and Mayan have appeared in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, and elsewhere. In addition to poetry, he has edited an anthology of short stories: New Visions: Fiction by Florida Writers, authored a collection of essays, Tropical Son: Essays on the Nature of Florida, and has published five novels: The Death of Cousin Rose, The Second Sorrowful Mystery, A Great Day for Dying, Saint Valentine’s Diamond and Death on the Southwest Chief.

Poetry, translation

A Brief Allegory of Merida and other poems

by Roldan Peniche Barrera

translated by Jonathan Harrington



Brevísima alegoría de Mérida

A Mérida llega la brisa vespertina
con su cauda de pájaros cansados.
Cuando en Mérida es noche
aroma la esencia del jazmín,
y de lirios, y de rosas del color de la carne.
Es las tinieblas oirás el alarido
del tecolote de ojos encendidos
y el revuelo del pájaro fantasma.
La madrugada es del tordo y de la tórtola
y la mañana refluye en cantos de cigarras,
pregones de voz primaveral,
sabores de piña y de guanábana
y un sol gozoso que emerge del mar.


A Brief Allegory of Mérida

The breeze comes to Mérida  in the twilight
with its comet-tail of tired birds.
When it is night in Mérida
the air is perfumed with jazmine
and lillies, and of roses the color of flesh.
In the darkness you will hear the owl of fiery eyes
and the rustling of a phantom bird.
Dawn belongs to the black sparrow and the turtle dove
and the entire morning flows in the singing cicadas
proclaiming in the primeaval voice of vendors
—pineapples and guanábana—
and a joyful sun emerges from the sea.


 En Uxmal

En Uxmal restalla el látigo de los resplandores.
Quien  asciende a la cúspide de la pirámide
toca a los astros,
percide la respiración de los dioses
y acaso escuche el tañido
del címbalo de oro
que fulgura en las manos de un rey mago.
Entre los ecos de una caverna
vive todavía la abuela de ese rey,
castigada de siglos.
A sus pies yace, en silencio,
el rencor de una serpiente fugitiva del infierno.


In Uxmal

In Uxmal the whip of brightness cracks.
He who ascends the pinnacle of the pyramid
touching the stars,
perceives the breathing of the gods
and might hear the striking
of a golden cymbal
that sparkles in the hands of a magician king.
Between the echoes of the cave
the grandmother of this king still lives,
punished by the centuries.
At her feet lies, in silence,
the rancor of a fugitive serpent from hell.


Boceto de Chichén Itzá

En Chichén Itzá hay una pirámide
donde el tigre rojo pernocta su melancolía.
En Chichén Itzá duerman los ecos
y las sombras de reyes y guerreros.
Crujen allí las calaveras del tzompantli
terribles en la oquedad de los tiempos.
Pisan la suave sombra del mediodía los venados;
las serpientes de piedra
descienden desde la cúspide
de equinoccios y solsticios,
y en la alta noche los astrónomos
desvelan la encrucijada de la eternidad.


Sketch of Chichén Itzá

In Chichén Itzá there is a pyramid
where the red tiger slumbers in its melancholy.
In Chichén Itzá the echoes and shadows
of kings and warriers sleep.
The skulls of tzompantli rustle
in the cavity of the ages.
The deer tread lightly on the shadows of midday,
the serpents of stone
descend from the heights
of equinoxes and solstices,
and the astronomers reveal the cross-roads of eternity
in the elevated night.


Danza en el mar

danzamos en el mar
arrebujados de las olas,
sabios en los besos
y el juego de manos
que acarician mutuamente
nuestros cuerpos.


Dancing in the Sea

we danced in the sea
juggled by the waves,
scholars of kisses
in a play of hands
that mutually carressed
our bodies.



En el patio, inmenso y abierto a la soledad,
me gasté la mitad de mi infancia.
Gran abuelo, seguramente hollado
de las pisadas de los antiguos mayas
fue cancha del juego de pelota,
huerto y jardín, dador de la guanábana,
solar del gata nutrido de violines
y territorio de la zariguya-guillotina
terror de las aves de corral.
A la aurora, despierta el patio
al arrullo de los pajarillos.


Grandfather and Patio

In the patio, immense and open to the solitude,
I spent half of my childhood.
Amazing grandfather, it surely was touched
By the footsteps of the ancient Maya;
and it once was their ball field,
then it became a garden, giver of the guanábana,
the backyard of the cat fed on violins
and territory of the opposom guillitine
terror of the birds of the corral.
At dawn, the patio wakes
to the cooing of little birds.



Poetry by Roldán Peniche Barrera from his book: Between Sweat and Time




* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Roldán Peniche is one of the best known writers in Yucatán.  He is a poet, story writer, essayist and a critic of art and literature as well as a translator.  He has published twenty-nine books.  He has translated Freud and Tennessee Williams into Spanish.  In 1992 he received the Antonio Medez Bolio Prize in recognition of his life-long contribution to literature.  The above poems are translations (by Jonathan Harrington) from Roldán Peniche’s book, Entre el sudor y el tiempo, (Between Sweat and Time). The settings of the poems in this book are fare-ranging.  The book includes poems not only about his beloved Mérida, but also San Francisco, Boston, New York, Mexico City and elsewhere.  In the introduction to the book, Peniche writes:  “We have here in these pages an unfinished chronicle of man and his circumstances, the memory of a witness and actor…”

Jonathan Harrington (translator) has published translations from Mayan and Spanish in World Literature Today, Visions International, The Dirty Goat, International Poetry Review, and other magazines.  He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has published thirteen books including novels, poetry, short stories, and essays.  His book of translations from the Maya poet Feliciano Sánchez Chan is forthcoming from New Native Press.  His latest book of poems, The Traffic of Our Lives recently won The Ledge Press Poetry Prize.  Jonathan lives on the Hacienda San Antonio Xpakay in Yucatan, Mexico.

Contact Jonathan Harrington at: xpakayjon@hotmail.com




Artist: Jane Gilday

And She Really Was Feeling It So Much

Watercolor and crayon on canson paper