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A Poem by Ámbar Past


     translated from the Spanish by Clare Sullivan

When you no longer want to be Indian,
go North
where they kill Indians.

(Let’s hope you know how to survive without water
and how to swim.)

Get yourself a cellphone
And the number of that Shaman
from down the street.

Send money for your incense
via Western Union.

Offer up smoke to stop being Indian:

A life sentence for no longer being Indian.

Go North
where the Kwakiutl burn their riches,
cleanse themselves of envy with fire.
The bonfire of money gives off incense
as delicate as human blood.

The Indian’s gods
become hookers,
work hotels on the Riviera Maya
suckling the Patrón
Don Dinero.

Carry in their bellies, in that sperm,
cheap labor.

Fertile fields for the rich man’s table.
for the Emperor’s

How much for your native girls?

—They’re plump so here’s the price
plus shipping costs.

A black dog
will take you to the other side.

If you aren’t going to be Indian, forget your
mother’s  tongue. Don’t let her speak it
with her grandchildren.
If your grandmother crochets, buy a polyester sweater.
Don’t use what comes from the Earth.
Forget how to stir pozole, stop braiding your hair.
Witness progress on the soap operas.

Learn to say: “Santa Clos.”
“Gud bai mai luf!”
Wear imported gym shoes.
If you can, don’t walk at all. Especially not with a bundle on your back.
A gentleman always travels on the backs of others.
With a proper coat of arms.

Don’t go building out of mud.
They say the Earth is dirty,
the same color as wetbacks.
You’ll have to drink grease,
burn fossil fuels and,
speak to your brothers
in a tone that shows who’s the Man.
Mr. Ding Dong himself
and who’s the boys,
the ones you can order
to do whatever the hell you want.
“Lick my boots,”  you can command.
“Get that spot, right there.”

Buy a fancy dog. Pure bred.
If you were a Gringo, you’d give it a Mayan name:
Natik, for instance,
Or Rin Tin Tin.

Ladinos—Indians who aren’t Indians anymore—
Name their dogs in English: Lady, Lassie or Ringo.

(You should never give a dog a person’s name.)
Get rid of your odor with brand name perfume.
If you have mud on your shoes or smell of smoke
you lower your commercial value
for the man.

You are useless
unless you buy.

If you want to stop being Indian
go North
and spend.

Learn to consume

And you will last

A while longer.


Read the Spanish original here.

Ámbar Past, poet, translator and craftswoman, has been living in Mexico for forty years. During that time she founded Taller Leñateros, a non-profit publisher and book making cooperative, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas and published more than nine books of poetry in both Tsotsil and Spanish. For thirty years she worked to compile and translate ritual songs of Tsotsil women that now appear in the bilingual books: Conjuros y ebriedades (1998), Incantations by Mayan Women (2004) and Disco de los conjuros (2004). Her writing has been translated to English, French, Italian and Japanese.

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