Translation Tuesday: “I fell in love with a poet . . . ” by Manuel Tzoc

I fell in love like you fall in love with silence / and darkness (fears I’ve never conquered)

This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of the Indigenous/Queer poet Manuel Tzoc. “I fell in love with a poet” comes from Tzoc’s theatrical poetry El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro (The Garden of Insane Children and the Golden Diving Helmet). The poem, imbued with a strong, imaginative voice that comes through even in translation, is a love address to a poet—a poet that exists only within Tzoc’s address itself. This imagined lover/poet is a pastiche of Guatemalan and international attributes, past and future stories, and complex desires. Identity is woven together from what the addressed poet does and does not do, what he wears. To a certain extent, the poet as the subject of address in Tzoc’s poem is an ideal subject, but not an idyllic or stereotypical one. Desire is expansive, and by imagining and versifying the poet/lover, Tzoc is able to birth the ideal made possible in poetry to encompass the specificity and the variety of a intersectional Indigenous Central American/urban/Queer poetics.

I fell in love with a poet
a boy poet
with the attitude of a horrible little prince
I fell in love like you fall in love with silence
and darkness (fears I’ve never conquered)
like you fall in love with certain sad songs
that take you closer to death
a beautiful pink worm
devouring a green apple
I fell in love with a foreign poet
in a tall hat and steel-toed boots
he’s a hunter of rare books
he’s weird and super beautiful
he speaks several languages
strange languages
he says things in Latin
and foams at the mouth
a man possessed by horrible images
I fell in love with this poet
who sometimes dresses in all silver

sometimes in gold
he sits down in places where accidents are about to happen
and whispers in my ear:
“you are dry and hollow/ hollow and dry”
which is why I love you
and I love you, too, I tell the poet
I fell in love with a poet
Full of tattoos
who flies suspended
from hooks stuck in his back
like pig’s flesh in a bloody room
he reads his sadomasochistic poems
while he balances, suspended,
in the pain of his heavy and terrible dreams
I fell in love with a poet with body modifications
transitioning from man to animal
from animal to man
my animal poet

I fell in love with a poet
who sells himself for sex
on a corner by the supermarket
the cheapest one in town
I fell in love with him
because he told me:
“I’m about to be born/ but I’m also about to die
I don’t even have enough to eat and I need a drink
I’m a failed poet
who only has these poems
for you to publish and then burn
these poems are for you,” he told me
and the night was pale and I decided to leave him
and keep to my side of the street

I fell in love with a poet
who doesn’t know he’s a poet
who’s never published anything
because he doesn’t believe
who has a lot of books
but he’s got NOTHING
my poet doesn’t have a name/age/address/or origin
or a passport from anywhere
but he’s got a bag full of words
that we cut out of fashion magazines
tabloids/crime stories/gossip columns/erotica
and that we glue in a mental scrapbook
that we love too much

I fell in love with a poet
who reads his work in K’iche’
with an enthusiasm for absolute truths
and prolonged silences
convincing imagery and too much loneliness in his eyes
“the boy with sad eyes” as Jeannete would put it

I fell in love with some damned poets
some of them wear tuxedoes and pink silk bowties
their lips pale
my poets in space suits
some wearing Maya textiles and diving suits
huipils from San Andrés Xecul
skirts from Quetzaltenango
shawls from Totonicapán
and blouses from Quiché
and some animal-print, black leather jackets
my spaceman poets
hold Maya ceremonies

in the moon’s craters
pleading on our behalf –our sad and
self-destructive humanity-
before the Maya gods
reciting verses from the Popol wuj into a megaphone
they come back later riding
in their balloon ship
in their pink stuffed animal capsule
in their vanilla zeppelin
in the 01010110 ship
to their planet
to weep for the rest of us

Translated from the Spanish by Paul Worley.

Excerpted from the work of theatrical poetry El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro [The Garden of Insane Children and the Golden Diving Helmet] staged by Cecilia Porras Sáenz and based on the poetic work by Manuel Tzoc. © Catafixia Editorial, Guatemala 2013.

Manuel Tzoc is an emerging Guatemalan poet, performance and book artist whose work and theatrical persona deconstruct any number of gender, racial, and ethnic binaries in Guatemala and beyond. For example, he self-identifies as Maya K’iche’ despite the fact that he does not speak the K’iche’; language, often constructed as one of the major markers of Indigenous identity in Guatemala. This makes him one of the very few Indigenous authors in Latin America who works exclusively in Spanish. Additionally, he not only openly identifies with urban space (as opposed to more “rural environs” of most Maya writers) but also as Queer, identities which are by turns seen as non-Indigenous. In his work, he weaves in and out of traditional Maya references to weaving and the Popol Vol while directly confronting the violence and alienation of Guatemala City. He also self-publishes independently in handmade artist books in order to completely avoid censorship. As an “indiamaricaurbano” (his term, meaning “indianurbanfaggot”), he challenges many outsiders‘ and insiders‘ preconceived notions of what Maya literature can and should be. He was recently profiled in Remezcla’s “10 Central American Poets You Should be Reading”

Paul Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at, and, with Rita M. Palacios, is co-author of Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for Mexico for Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.


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