The Crab’s Back

The Crab’s Back
Photo by Heather (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Heather (copied from Flickr)

A possum crosses my house’s sky

His hands smell of sandals,

Describe a nocturnal gladiator

That touches and smells women’s sex.

In my dream, someone on the right side

Throws silver coins into a pristine bucket

Oh! Childhood’s sounds.

You will dream of shit and your ancestors

Will say it is good fortune,

Keep that hand on your left pocket

Music on the wrong side;

I was born with two aspects: the written word

And Zapotec’s melody, in order to love

I’ve always used my two hemispheres.

I miss you and all you know

Are the dark woods of ephemeralness,

The click of an eye that opens to take away a piece of something

Just to close again immediately,

Like a shell closes down on feelings;

A hot coin on your back

Or laughing astride

Mockery’s culture

A free animal, or not,

Animals oblige to their fate

Repetition without a reason,

The moon with its milk drawings

With its rabbit looking upon disgraces

Right there, where gaze at a distance seems to unite.

A thorny monkey,

Like taking away thorns after bumping into a cactus,

By taking away spikes you get more splinters.

Was I ever happy?

Yes, when it rained and a dark hand served me

Bean soup on a plate from the crops outside

The golden bowls’ town,

When someone named mirror stayed by my side,

When I flew a kite and lost sight of it,

It’s true, whatever goes up comes down in your face;

When I escaped Uncle shoe-maker’s belt,

When the sun raised and the only thing I had

Was a pig’s yell, previously seen, legs tied,

Next to death’s funny gorge

Stand in line to be sacrificed?

Lightness for paper,

A tyre passes marking your shoes for ever.

I know about spells:

I know how to get rid of sadness,

How to get rid of obsession, of fear:

If I bury myself next to a river

And someone rubs up his testicles against my head,

If I sit looking at the sea

And they find my lost pulse: lylyly, pé, pépé,*

If they spit anisette into my face

If wind takes away sand from my eyes

If they fill me up with toads,

If I lie belly down on the earth while it trembles.

If I read my dreams as predicted by the old lady

Who used to sing to me in childhood: name your sadness,

There’s nothing like knowing what you long for,

To talk about melancholy you need to hold

History and stories on your hand,

You need, amongst other things, a hammock

And loose hours like a pendulum,

What is time?

A dying mother

A wretched father

Destitution turned into stone,

A mountain prayer,

Make love to the one that doesn’t peel you.

I looked at your cat eyes

Savouring an unbuilt possibility,

I just wanted to run away,

Just wanted to run away.

Because my exodus started at eight years old

And where I lived wasn’t barren,

There was a community, fireworks and their shuddering,

There was freedom and mutual trust.

I quarrelled with my tradition

Didn’t allowed it to deflower my hand full of alcohol

Didn’t want to show nothing:

I was never a virgin,

I was always inhabited by ghosts

That assaulted my jute cot,

I never wanted my blood to be pure.

I know about Conquest and its promises

I fought chocolate and mole,

To get rid of the sewing closing my eyelids

I had to hold a torch born from my guts,

I burnt my body so that I could believe in justice

And bumped into ignorance instead,

The news I was eager to embrace showed me their glitz

And my back gave me back the crab’s rear.

Leave in order to always come back

What happens if one sticks to one’s ignorance?

Isn’t it better to suffer one’s inventory?

Now, without haven, nor boat, nor dwelling

I took refuge in silence:

A comatose state.

What does my happiness look like?

I am a fly,

A dot on an almond’s leaf

About to depart, about to deliver,

I’m a buzz in memory’s ear

I tattooed memory too.

A crack through which levity shall not enter

Through which innocence shall not walk

What does it mean to be indigenous?

Firewood ingenuity,

A bet, sails of grown beards


Never again a place,

A spider looking leather sandal attached to my feet,

A little accumulated salt,

What’s world history?

An eye crying for its neglect.

Flowers know it, as well as peoples

The day happier stories were told

That day we left behind our sufficiency

To give ourselves to a never ending repetition,

Now I know

It is too late.


*Lylyly, pé, pépé.
Sixteenth Century Zapotec onomatopoeia equivalent to the sound made by pain when it walks inside the body.

Translation by Diego Gómez Pickering

Natalia Toledo

About Natalia Toledo

Natalia Toledo was born in Juchitán, Oaxaca, and has published several books of poetry. She writes in both Zapotec and Spanish. She is a member of Mexico’s presitigious Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte.

Natalia Toledo was born in Juchitán, Oaxaca, and has published several books of poetry. She writes in both Zapotec and Spanish. She is a member of Mexico’s presitigious Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte.

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