Translation Tuesday: “The Train” by Martín Tonalmeyotl

Each step is a return: towards death, towards life

From the humorous to the profane and the sacred, Náhuatl poet Martín Tonalmeyotl’s poetic work is firmly rooted in the mountains of his native Guerrero (Mexico) and reflects his commitment to his culture and his language. Far from idealizing his home state, however, Tonalmeyotl’s work frequently takes an unflinching look at a sociopolitical situation where, in addition to the 2014 kidnapping and murder of forty-three students from Ayotzinapa amidst increasing violence from drug trafficking, Guerrero’s citizens have gone so far as to organize independent civil defense groups for protection. In “The Train,” the poet takes up another aspect of life in contemporary Mexico, human migration, in the series of freight trains otherwise known as La bestia (the Beast) or El tren de la muerte (the Death Train) that transport migrants from Central America to the US border.

—Paul Worley

The Train 

Each step is a return: towards death, towards life
Each train is a nightmare: of blood, of hunger, of cobwebs
Each child is a piece of fruit: rotten, sweet, bitter, what does it matter
At any rate life is sold to the scavengers
To the rancid wolves who’d like to eat us whole
Because if they don’t devour our stick-thin bones
Their potbellies will become hollow
And they won’t have any shit to feed their own parasites
We should get drunk, I tell you,
So we forget that on this earth
Day by day we are hunted down like rabid dogs

Translated from the Náhuatl into Spanish by Martín Tonalmeyotl
Translated from the Spanish into English  by Paul Worley

Martín Tonalmeyotl (Martín Jacinto Meza, 1983) is a poet, translator, and professor of Náhuatl from Atzacoaloya in the municipio of Chilapa de Álvarez, Guerrero, Mexico. He holds a BA in Hispanic Literatures from the Autonomous University of Guerrero (UAGro) and an MA in Indoamerican Linguistics from the Center for Research and Higher Education (CIESAS). In addition to appearing in numerous anthologies, he coordinates the indigenous literary series Xochitlájtoli (Flowered Word) in Círculo de Poesía, and is the author of the recent volumes Tlalkatsajtsilistle (Ritual of the ForgottenJaguar Ediciones, 2016) and Nosentlalilxochitlajtol (A Personal Anthology, Asociación de Escritores de México en la Colección Colores Primarios, 2017).

Paul Worley (Charleston, SC 1976) is a translator and Associate Professor of World Literature in the English Department at Western Carolina University. He holds an MA in poetry from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from UNC-Chapel Hill. His book, Telling and Being Told: The Storyteller and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures, was published in 2013 by the University of Arizona Press, and his work on indigenous languages and literatures has recently appeared in Studies in American Indian Literatures, Latin American Caribbean Ethnic Studies, and A contracorriente. Co-authored with Rita Palacios, his current project focuses on the Maya concept of ts’íib as a form of multimodal literary expression.


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